Monday, November 1, 2010

PV Panels

I am looking into the possibilities of fitting PV panels on my house. It is a swift learning curve and I have to decipher the jargon and marketing speak as I go along.
I list a few of the things I have learnt so far.
· Every installer says their panels are the best.
· If you have an east/west roof you can have panels and the disadvantage is only about 15% less performance. There are various websites that work this out for you. Two I have used are and
· Each installer uses different size panels which each have different performance. Ie 10 panels can give very different performance depending on size.
· Non of the installers know what might happen to VAT on January 1st.
· Installers are not all doing what they should as members of the Micro-generation Certification Scheme. They should ensure that you have adequate insulation etc. Not all have asked.
· Prices vary for the same output by as much as 30%.
· They do not understand why a customer wants to be able to see the performance of the panels on a day to day basis. The display on most inverters is to be hidden away in the loft!
· It will take 12 months before I know what performance I am really getting. The winter months will give less than a quarter of the energy from summer months.
· Any shadow on any part of an array can lower the overall performance considerably.

Many thanks to John Newson for showing some of us his panels and explaining the process. It always helps to talk to others. If you have recently any experince in this field please post a comment.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Days Out

Throughout the last few months Northfield Ecocentre has been taking stalls to community events throughout south Birmingham. Sometimes the event is indoors but often outside as the above picture shows in Muntz Park.
This is one way we are able to talk to people who have not heard of our building in Northfield. We tell them about the centre and encourage them to pay us a visit so that they can then appreciate what can be done to save the environment.

At Munz Park we had children making wallets from Tetrapacks so as to demonstrate to them that some things that we throw away can be made into something useful. We do similar things at the Ecocentre during our Family sessions each Thursday.
We hope that these outreach events will encourage people to explore the huge range of things we have at Northfield and also take advantage of our energy advice experts.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saving Energy

The nights are drawing in so it is also the time when we starting putting the lights on in the evening and even think about switching the heating on again.
This is therefore the time when we also start increasing our energy use which also means costs. The graph above shows my energy use throughout the year and it is clear that the gas soars in the winter starting in the next few weeks.
If you have not already done it perhaps a word with our energy advisers at Northfield Ecocentre might help reduce the bills that will inevitably follow the start of the winter. We have several trained advisors who may be able to maker some practical suggestions on things you can do fairly quickly to keep the costs down. Ring 01214480119 or email for an appointment.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hire Bikes

I have just returned from a couple of days in London so it was the first time I had seen the new hire bikes. They seem to be a lot of parking places. We saw them all over the centre and up to a couple of miles out. People were using them. The racks above were quite full but many I saw were half empty and it was quite noticeable the number being ridden. I am told they are quite heavy with low gears.
For those who have registered the first half hour is free and the up to an hour £1. You can get quite some distance on a bike in half an hour.
I wonder whether anyone in Birmingham is thinking of how they could be introduced here? They are certainly a way we could reduce our use of carbon.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Thanks to Bovey Climate Action for the information shown below:

· In 2009, women brought nearly 3 times as many garments as they brought in 1999.
· We don't even wear 20% of the clothes that we buy.
· Two million tonnes of textiles go into UK landfills every year.
· In 1970, t-shirts and top cost around £2-10 each. They cost much the same now, but as we now earn around10 times as much money, we buy far more.
· Clothes are very cheap now, because almost all of them are made in countries with very low wages and living standards.
· Wool is probably the most sustainable fibre there is; less than a hundred years ago, it was a valuable product. Now, because we prefer oil-based, man-made fabrics, a sheep's fleece is only worth about £1 - the cost of having it sheared.
· Our modern textile industry is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses on Earth.
· Even the growing and processing of natural fibres causes pollution! Growing cotton needs vast amount of water. Irrigating cotton is causing acute water shortages in many poor countries.
· Man-made fabrics are made from petro-chemicals. Did you know that you're probably wearing oil?
· If you 'shop till you drop', you're probably making climate change worse....
Well, what can we do about it, and still look good?
· Choose your clothes carefully and look after them - you can enjoy them for years!
· Try to buy organic wool, cotton and linen
· Get a basic sewing kit, so that you can sew on buttons and mend your clothes.
· Find out how to make, alter and remake your clothes, so that you can always look cool!
· Try Charity Shops for fantastic bargains with tiny footprints.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Energy Tax Penalises Those Paying the "Tradional Way!"

It has been revealed that customers paying for their utilities by cash or cheque could be paying more than those paying by direct debits. The BBC has already accused Energy Companies of charging the average household on prepayment meters £118 more than those who pay by direct debit following the latest round of price increases, but the Energy Companies defend these accusations by saying this is simply because they are phasing out traditional methods of paying.

We all know that the ability of these companies to hike their prices up and down as and when they feel like it is their best commodity, which means the best way to avoid paying more as a consumer is to be energy savvy, but with so many tariffs, ways to pay and ways to save energy, it can all be quite confusing!

Northfield Ecocentre knows this and as such offers all local people a free Energy Consultation.
In this sessio, all of your energy use is reviewed, as well as your bill to identify any hidden charges and help you to make changes that will cut your energy bills.

If you would like further information on this service, please visit our website
Or just pop in and visit us! We are open Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wolseley Sustainable Building Centre

Only a few years ago finding tradesmen in the building industry who understood some of the renewable technologies was almost impossible. This is changing and the Wolseley Sustainable Building Centre is one of the driving forces.
The Centre is run by one of the large building material suppliers. They built the £3M centre to demonstrate to the building industry what is available and how it can be fitted. It is a building packed with both passive and active ways of reducing energy in all types of buildings and also demonstrating that materials used in buildings can be chosen to reduce their impact on the environment.
I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the centre with a party from Optima Community Association who are themselves building and planning eco homes. I was glad to hear the centre was not only emphasising climate change as an issue but also the alarming speed that peak oil and peak gas may overtake us.
There were many interesting things that came from the visit but one that struck me was that since the feed in tariffs were introduced in April PV panels have been flying off the shelves. Likewise solar hot water panels are also very popular.
Wolseley are to be congratulated for taking the lead within the building industry and I thank them for the visit and Optima for inviting us to accompany them.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Garden Water

I try to collect rainwater for all the needs of the garden, conservatory, and greenhouse. Most years we usually manage but during the last few days it was a close thing. We emptied the last water out of the three butts yesterday so were delighted when it started raining this morning and at least half filled the butts up again.
A special adapter is required from the house downpipe but any bit of guttering and pipes from skips will do for greenhouses and sheds. An old dustbin will do as the container.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Polling day draws near and I am still waiting for all the parties to really tell us what they are going to do to slow climate change down. In the leaders debates it was hardly mentioned. I went to a hustings for my constituency and it was not mentioned. I have looked through the leaflets that have come through the door and the most I can find is reference to recycling.
Luke at Northfield Ecocentre has produced a useful summary of what each of the parties has said about environmental issues in their manifestos. You can read that here .
This is all very disappointing as although the economy is important the environmental disaster awaiting the world due to climate change is likely to be worldwide. If the parties are not planning for it one is left wondering who will?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Heat Pumps

Last time I wrote about the solar hot water panel at the Northfield Ecocentre. This week the blog is about the air source heat pump. The “air source” bit is because it grabs the heat out of the air whereas other heat pumps grab it from the ground.
If ever you have looked behind your household fridge you will see there is a coil. If the fridge is working then the coil will be warm. This is how the heat pump works. In the case of the fridge a pump is taking the heat out of the fridge and getting rid of it through the coil. In the case of an air source heat pump it takes the heat from outside air and heats a coil which we use as a radiator to heat the building. The physics of it means that for every kilowatt of electricity we use to drive the pump then over two kilowatts are put into the radiators to heat the building. It seems like magic to me! Of course one still has to pay for the electric but only half what it would have cost with conventional electric heating. However they do say that if gas is available it is still more economical to use gas for heating. For rural and isolated buildings it is well worth a study.
The graph above shows the electricity used by the Ecocentre heat pump and the heat produced. You will see that the output is about twice the input. Unlike the solar panel the graph is at present reducing as the weather gets warmer. Our peak was at New Year when we had a pipe frozen and had to leave the heat on overnight to thaw it out. We regular update the graph and this is shown here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Heating Up

Over the last week or two we have been all conscious how much warmer it has been as compared to the long dark days of January. The spring flowers are also feeling the warmer weather coming as the daffodils and crocuses come into bloom. In our garden the daffodils are about two weeks later than last year.
Those of us with solar hot water panels will also have been noticing the difference. We have now started having days when the panel alone can provide all the hot water we want.
At Northfield Ecocentre we record the performance of the panel. The graph in the picture above is updated to yesterday but clearly shows the rise in output. It shows the amount of daily heat produced by the sun on our panel expressed in Kilowatts. The way it dramatically increases in the summer can clearly be seen on the graph which started last spring.
If you want to watch how it performs during the summer it is regularly updated and can be seen here.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I have tried to understand the principles of permaculture on a number of occasions but each time have found myself bogged down in statements like “Provision for life systems”
Last night I attended a talk at Northfield Ecocentre by two people who are applying permaculture to their garden in Sutton Coldfield.
When shown in a garden setting it seems easier than when trying to apply it to “life as whole”.
I came away from the talk with the impression that if I tried to apply some of the following then I am doing some of the permaculture design principles.

· The garden must be sustainable. Ie it should not rely on inputs such as fertilisers from outside.
· Plants should be planted to help each other. Ie some like shade and some like to give shade.
· Every plant has its use whether it is to encourage bees or provide fertiliser such as nettles and comfrey.
· Understanding diversity to make things work together. Ie companion planting.
· Make use of edge effects. The sides of woods and ponds all have a use.
· Be creative in fitting things in. This may have things climbing up each othe or compost heaps heating up new plants.
· Recycle and reuse to create the infrastructure of the garden.

It is hoped the garden at the Ecocentre will have permaculture features incorporated in it. Now that the better weather is coming volunteers will be needed to come and help.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Northfield Photographs

Taking photographs often makes you see things in a different light. On Saturday I walked round the 1000 year old St Laurence Church area. I had driven through on a number of occasions but never stopped and had a look.
Northfield Ecocentre has just launched a photographic competition. The photographs have to be taken in Northfield but can be either of “Nature”, “Cityscape”, or “Community”. There are a number of age groups. So here is a chance to wander round with a purpose and see what you can find. You have until the end of May to find the perfect photo!
Details of the competition can be obtained by downloading:
The Brief
The Entry Form
There is a lot going on at the Ecocentre these days so keep an eye open for something that suits you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

It Pays to Produce Your Own Electricity

The government has recently announced that those people who produce their own electricity will be paid for doing so. The scheme is know under the name of “Feed in Tariffs” or FiT.
Some details are:
· The Feed-in Tariff makes installing micro generation much more financially attractive -it should be possible to finance the costs with a bank loan, with the income from the Feed-in Tariff helping to cover your repayments.
· Payments will be inflation-linked for all generators and tax-free for domestic properties.
· Payments are guaranteed for 20 to 25 years, depending on the technology.
· For small generators, the FiT will be paid for their total generation, including the units they use themselves.
For example - a household with a 2kW solar pv system
Installation cost: £10,500 (subject to survey)
Income (including savings made on electricity bill):£870 a year
Return on Investment 8%, payback period 12 years.
For example - a household with a 6kW wind turbine
Installation cost: £24,000 (subject to survey)
Income (including savings made on electricity bill): £2,700 a year
Return on Investment 12%, payback period 9 years
· Households should not consider installing any micro-generation technology until they have first addressed the energy-efficiency of their property.
· Technology must be appropriate for the situation - for example solar pv works best on a south-facing roof, and there is no point installing a wind turbine unless you live in a windy place.
· The scheme only applies to installations fitted after 15th July 2009 and even those get a lower rate per unit than brand new projects.
· Good Energy however will pay most people 15p a unit regardless when it was installed and can help with every stage of the process, from choosing the right technology to finding a grant to getting paid your FiT - visit to find out more

Friday, February 5, 2010

Church Photovoltaic Panels

Birmingham planners have shown Birmingham up as a “stick in the mud” department by recommending rejection of the planning permission to fit PV panels on St Mary’s Church Moseley. Councillors yesterday simply opted out by accepting the officers opinion. Some time ago I had heard that there were staff in that department who were climate change deniers so perhaps this reinforces that view.
St Marys is a grade ll listed building yet throughout the country there are examples of planning authorities granting permission for panels on even Grade l listed churches St James, Piccadilly shown above).

In rejecting the application the council has flown in the face of government advice to them which is that sustainability issues should have the highest priority when considering applications. They have even ignored the advice of one the city’s own sustainability officer who incidentally is also part of the planning team.

By this action the council has put the reputation of Birmingham as a progressive sustainable city, right to the bottom of the league

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Helping the rain forests

There are a number of websites that make a contribution to a charity whenever you use them. The one below is a bit different.

Ecosia is a search engine run by a non-profit group that uses 80% of revenue generated by leads to protect the Rain Forests.

I have put it on my desktop without any problems, it simply changed the little search box on the top RHS from 'Google' to 'Ecosia'. Every time I have used it, a small fee is paid to Ecosia and this is used for their work on the rainforests. I figure appears in the bottom right of your screen telling you how much rainforest you have saved.

If you find other websites that donate to environmental charities let us know.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I do not often shop in Lidl but this morning we needed a few things so went in the one at Balsall Heath.
As I was coming out I noticed a lady who had past through the checkout and was packing her purchases into her bags. However before she put them in her bag she removed much of the packaging. For instance she took the bag of cornflakes out of its box and discarded the box.
I had heard of and seen this happening in Germany but never seen it in the UK.
Many of us moan about excess packaging but not many of us do something about it. I take my hat off to the Balsall Heath lady.
Incidentally Lidl do now stock some Fairtrade goods. I saw chocolate, tea, and coffee and there could have been more.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Year

Happy New Year to everybody. I hope you have all made resolutions to help improve the environment this year.

The start of a new year makes me start putting things in a new diary. Usually we start thinking about what plants we are going to grow particularly in the allotment. However as I write snow is falling outside so perhaps I will put it off for now.

However despite the supermarkets almost destroying the natural rhythms of the year by importing food when it is out of season there are a still a few things that can only be bought at certain times. The one that comes to mind in January is Seville oranges to make marmalade. This month is the only time of the year one can find them and even then one has to search.

I love marmalade so do go out and search and buy enough to make enough marmalade for a year. If you have not tried making your own now is the time! You can do it in the warm and ignore the weather outside.