29 Nov 2013, 5:17pm
frugality rant:
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  • Energy efficiency for the poor is a matter for taxation, not arbitrary levies

    Britain hasn’t really done very well for a cold-ish country in the Northern Hemisphere on the energy efficiency front, for residential property anyway. I’m not quite sure why this is so – there seem to be a mix of factors at work.

    • Old houses – We churn our housing stock very slowly. My first house was a mid-terrace built in 1840 to house the Industrial Revolution workers. It had solid walls but no central heating – the rooms were heated by gas fires when I lived in it.
    • Houses not designed for central heating – although it gets cold in winter in the UK it doesn’t get really cold in the same way as in parts of Continental Europe. Even before central heating they often took a whole-house heating approach, for instance using things like the German Kachelofen – apparently it’s called a Masonry Heater in English, which I never knew until now because I’ve never seen one in the UK. It was in the 1970s that central heating arrived in the UK, and combined with the slow turnover of the housing stock means everyone I know has a house where the central heating is a retro-fit.
    • General constructional lackadaisical approach. Things like double-glazing came to Britain late in the day – another 1970’s/80s innovation, though Nordic countries have had double and triple-glazing for years. I’ve never come across triple glazing in the UK.

    The trouble is the UK winter just isn’t such a big deal as it is in other Northern European countries – our climate is buffered by the close proximity to the sea, so as such we’ve never really sorted ourselves out regarding dealing with the cold. It’s why our roads, runways and railways freeze over (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and come to a standstill if it’s a bit colder than we are used to. Unlike in places like Norway or even Germany, where if they didn’t have plans in place to tackle serious snow and ice they wouldn’t be able to move for three months we can get away with it, most years.

    Now before the 1970s we tended to heat just one room, and everybody congregated in that room, which had the open fire. Although it plays well to an atavistic human race-memory, an open fire is a ghastly way to keep warm in winter – it works by generating a massive uprush of air through the chimney, sucking in the cold air from outside through any crevices it can find, and old British homes have lots of gaps. They’re about 40% efficient at best, can can be as low as 15%. You could end up starting the fire up and finding out other rooms in the house would get colder at times 1 due to the stupendous inrush of cold air sucked in by the fire ;) With an open fire you also get a massive temperature gradient – the bit the cat curls up and lies down on is red hot, but by the time you get to the door it’s brass monkeys and cold and draughty.

    However, it is very convivial – Ivan Illich would have approved. It’s not a great match for today’s atomistic virtual living, but in the ’70s we came up with an answer. Rather than heat one or two rooms, we’d heat the whole house! I know this probably doesn’t sound so radical now, but it really was a step-change. Shame that the US peak oil crisis and the Arab Israeli war which generated the 1970s oil shock was to rain on the parade in a few years, and in the UK Arthur Scargill and his chums were going to educate us about energy security closer to home, but it sounded like a great idea at the time.

    So we took these leaky old houses, retrofitted a hot water distribution system and radiators into them, put hardboard over the previous fireplaces and hey presto – instant warmth. It wasn’t even that much dearer to run, because the shocking inefficiency of an open coal fire and all the attendant air leaks necessary to not have it kill you due to CO poisoning were eliminated. In the mid 1970s Britain converted from town gas created from coal to natural gas from the North Sea, and we were reasonably happy. Those that couldn’t use gas were pointed towards electric storage heaters in towns and oil-fired systems in the country.

    When you heat a room from a coal fire, insulation and draught-proofing doesn’t matter so much

    Everything was sorted – except that our houses were still draughty and leaky. When you are heating one room with a coal fire, the draughtiness isn’t such a bad thing, and because that room presents only one or two walls to the outside, you don’t need to mess around with insulation so much, because the radiating surface is small. If you’re lucky, the heated room is on the ground floor 2  so loft insulation is neither here nor there as some of the heat rising is a welcome move, particularly if the bedroom is above. The layout of the typical Victorian two-up two-down house is very conducive to that, and works well with an coal- or gas-fire in the living room with the bedroom above.

    So we never bothered insulating our houses, and draught-proofing wasn’t really approved of. That coal fire has got to breathe in from the house as well as breathe out through the chimney, else carbon monoxide will bind to the haemoglobin in your blood and you don’t get to wake up. Ever.

    central heating changed all that

    Then we installed central heating. All of a sudden those draughts weren’t so useful and because we were now heating the whole house, the whole house is turned into a radiating surface, so there were benefits to be had from insulating the walls and the loft. Our crappy sash windows with a great big space between the sliding panes were also leaky, opening up potential for double glazing salesmen…

    It’s easy to insulate the walls if they are cavity walls, and according to the DECC 3 a bit over half of the UK’s dwellings have or can support cavity wall insulation, which largely sorts out wall insulation. This sort of insulation is usually blown in from outside, and is relatively easy to do. Insulating the roofspace or loft with rockwool or fibreglass is also reasonably easy to do if you can get access.

    The poor ended up with less well insulated houses – because they lived in older houses with solid walls where you can’t do cavity wall insulation. The way to heat a house like that is to heat one room – I know because that’s what I used to do when I lived in a two-up-two-down, and indeed this is the solution advocated by one Guardianista who has thought about it.

    However, it appears that nowadays everyone has the right to heat their entire home; and indeed they do if they can afford it :) So the last Labour administration, in a remarkable piece of sleight of hand decided that we should all pay to insulate the homes of the poor. As a social goal there may well be something to be said for that, but I always find it’s nice if people ask first. The way they did it was sneaky and underhand. We have an existing method to redistribute income from the rich to the poor. It’s called income tax, but politicians hate putting up income tax because people hate them for it and don’t vote them in again.

    So they made all our fuel bills larger, so that we could all pitch in to help insulate the homes of the poor. And this does piss me off, because it’s dishonest, and it’s regressive – after all, not only do I end up paying more/getting less, the poor also end up eating the costs in higher energy bills unless they can take advantage of the insulation efforts. The whole thing seems to be an exercise in doubleplusgood Newspeak

    The overwhelming reasons for power bills soaring are that fossil fuels are getting more expensive and that two decades of underinvestment by energy companies in the UK’s now creaking energy system has left customers with a steep bill to catch up. [...]

    SSE’s own figures, analysed by Reg Platt at the IPPR think tank, show the rise equates to £93 a year. Of that, £23 is due to rising wholesale energy costs and £28 for investment in the grid and meters. VAT adds £5 and another £23 is unaccounted for, but will include SSE’s own costs, profit and projected rises for the next year, during which SSE has pledged to freeze its tariffs. That all means that just one sixth of SSE’s rise – £15 – is due to the rise in government “green taxes”.

    Crafty, that – a part of the latest rise isn’t so bad? It’s not this particular rise, it is the total amount including all the stuff that has already been added. We have an evil combination of Soviet-style central planning and redistribution along with some free-market muppetry, it’s no wonder nobody can understand energy prices with everything pulling in different directions like that. The investment in the grid and meters is a ‘green’ requirement, because renewable energy increases the peak to mean ratio on specific sections of the network, which means you have to over-engineer it to handle the peak inflows as well,  where previously it was engineered to handled the peak demand (you’d dimension the generation to match expected demand, but patterns in that could be characterised and have daily, weekly, and yearly patterns) .

    You can see this if you take a look at this site

    part of NG loading, Friday 16:30pm-ish on Nov 20, 2013

    part of NG loading, Friday 16:30pm-ish on Nov 29, 2013

    If you look at the daily and weekly demand you see a characteristic pattern, and you see a fairly harsh, and random, peak to mean ratio on the wind subchart. It’s also clear that the heavy lifting in this snapshot is done by fossil fuels 4 at about 80% of the total. Wind is ~ 12%, increase that to say 50% target and the unmanaged volatility is going to skyrocket. I can’t get a really clear answer of the wind peak to mean ratio from the chart, but I’d estimate it at about 3:1. If it’s half the generation, then the total volatility will be about 3:2, and we then have the issue that wind isn’t necessarily close to the consumption centres of the country. You get to say where you are putting fossil fuel power stations – sort of, so you can shorten the transmission network a bit. So all that will add up to extra costs and it’s fair enough that power consumers get to eat the cost of engineering the network, that’s part of the cost of supply. However, insulating some people’s homes at everyone else’s cost is social policy, and our government seems to have stolen a march on the Greek method of loading crafty taxes on to hard to avoid consumables – years before the Greeks had the idea!

    The investment in meters is because there’s a theory that people manage their usage if they can see it. I personally would leave this up to the consumers – you don’t have to roll out smart meters to track consumption. I purchased a Efergy energy meter to manage this and may upgrade this to identify specific power hogs, and I have probably recovered the capital cost and more in reduced power usage. But not everybody is that interested the consumer needs to understand the difference between kilowatts and kilowatt-hours and which of those numbers they should try and minimise. If they don’t know they can’t use a smart meter properly. If you want to know, you’ll stump up – again, why everybody has to be provided with this just in case some are interested beats me.

    I’ve at least done my bit to pay as little as possible for other people’s insulation – by reducing my energy usage ;) However what I didn’t realise is how shocking these levies are. They aren’t listed explicitly anywhere, but can be seen in the background radiation of their effect on fuel prices. I brazenly pinched this chart from here

    Relative domestic energy prices, in kWh

    Relative domestic energy prices, in kWh

    Now you have to factor in efficiency into the equation – my wood stove is rated by the manufacturer to be > 70% efficient. Electricity is always 100% efficient 5 in being turned into heat, because you have no exhaust to vent the products of combustion. My gas boiler is over twenty years old and according to the energy saving trust it is about 70% efficient too.So you have to deflate the cost of electricity by 30% to compare it with wood, whereas gas and wood are pretty much of a muchness efficiency-wise for me. That economy7 is about 5.1 p/kWh because you get to use all of it, so it’s cheaper that heating oil or LPG for kWh of heating functionality delivered to your living space 6

    According to them I could save £310 p.a. if I bought the latest whizz-bang condensing boiler, which would be impressive it it were true – I pay £500 for gas in a year as it is ;) However, elementary arithmetic indicates they are wrong. Assume a new boiler is 100% efficient. I throw away 30% of my £500 due to the notional inefficiency of my boiler, £150 tops. So they are presuming a higher consumption. Not only that, but the payback period is thus very very long – if it costs £3000 parts and labour to install a boiler I am looking at 20 years to amortise the cost 7, and condensing boilers are notoriously unreliable – I’d be lucky to get ten years service life. So I’ll pass on that, thanks.

    Now the interesting part of this is if you look at the cost of wood, in terms of logs. It’s probably safe to say that nobody has yet thought of putting green levies on logs. Wood processing is shockingly manually intensive, and yet is cheaper than anything else other than coal in price per kWh.  It’s got to be dearer to harvest, store and dry out for a year or and supply than gas – there are few economies of scale to be had. I suspect gas would be cheaper if it weren’t distorted by social engineering, which guesstimates the social engineering at about 1p out of 3.5p, a heady 28%.

    You can take matters into your own hands, however. Burn coal in a multifuel log burner, or if you have children and issues with global warming then pay people to chop up wood and deliver it to you by the ton, which has the nice social engineering byproduct of improving manual employment opportunities in your local area, because wood is a low-density fuel and the economics go pear-shaped as soon as you shift it any significant distance ;)

    This is striking a blow  for freedom from social engineering

    This is striking a blow for freedom from social engineering

    Do your bit for the country. Declare independence from these chiseling ways. If politicians want us to pay for the poor to insulate their homes then let them man up at the ballot box, say so and do it above the line. Shysters…

    Having now discovered this I will be buying coal, if I can get it at the prices quoted. I don’t see why I should be chipping in just so that the Guardian can print this heart-warming tale of four working-age adults getting their house insulated for free on my power bill and now I know how to stop being rooked for this ;)

    Rogers believes the ECO scheme should be expanded, not slimmed down. “It’s a brilliant idea. I don’t know why we don’t do more of it.”

    Take a guess. Go on, try. Perhaps we don’t do more of it because you run out of other people’s money?

     

    Notes:

    1. according to these guys this effect was used in the 19th century to provide coal fired cooling at times!
    2. you get a double win by having the fire on the ground floor of a two storey house because having a longer chimney is beneficial to getting enough airflow – the pressure difference is proportional to the chimney length if it is adequately insulated.
    3. DECC  – review of the number of cavity walls in Britain
    4. I regard nuclear as a fossil fuel though not a CO2 generating one, because they ain’t making any more uranium in places we can get at easily, like on earth…
    5. obviously there are losses in generation and transmission, but these are taken into account in the price per kWh you pay when it crosses your meter
    6. I am making the assumption that confusedaboutenergy.co.uk haven’t already inflated the cost to compensate for efficiency, which they sort of confirm by saying For further clarity this is the amount of potential energy in the fuel, and not the energy delivered from an appliance
    7. I expect gas to rise in real terms, which would shorten the period of amortization by some uncertain amount. Even if it’s ten years, that seems to be the anticipated service life of a modern boiler, so I would have to add £300 p.a. to my gas bill just to save up for the cost of the new boiler in 2023, making the efficiency saving of £150/year look very bad value indeed

    In the end your money will go anyway into the new nuclear power plant :-(

    Sorry,I had fat fingers! Just wanted to add that I found you via MMM. Great blog!
    Regards from Germany!

    @Deedee thanks! And greetings to your country than understands how to deal with the winter cold ;)

    A little comment from the other occupant of Ermine Towers :) Regular readers of Simple Living in Suffolk may know that I run The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, and may therefore be wondering whether I was sleeping at the switch when Mr Ermine stated his intent to buy coal from now on (it hardly being a “Low Carbon” option).

    I was not asleep. After a little mutual bearing of mustelid teeth and light fur tearing, a compromise has been reached which involved minimal coal use.

    I accept the us of a limited amount of “ecoal” – (yes, I know that sounds like a joke! 50% renewable materials, and higher energy density than regular coal) in the middle of winter when burning wood just doesn’t cut the mustard to heat Ermine Towers in the evening (the gas heating goes on only briefly in the morning to make the place slightly less brass monkeys).

    Basically we can’t even _store_ enough wood to get through the winter that way, let alone store it long enough to make sure it is dry, and thus useful. However with a little coal in the winter months we can keep warm enough (and this still entails two jumpers, undertrousers and two pairs of socks during the day, then heating only one room in the evening – late afternoon too in the dead of winter. That way I can afford to run a low carbon farm on an income of £750 a month (for now). Life is never perfect, you see.

    30 Nov 2013, 7:14pm
    by BeatTheSeasons


    I’m really surprised to hear you pay £500 a year for gas. We pay a bit more – £53 per month – but we have a 1930s house with solid walls, part single glazing and uninsulated suspended floors. We have a combi boiler for heating and water and we don’t burn any wood. We’ve only used 11,079 kWh of gas so far this year of which 7,028 was in Jan, Feb & Mar.

    @BTS in all fairness, I pay £58 for combined electricity and gas p.c.m = £700 so I probably screwed up there somewhere. I think they still get ahead of me on the deal and refund every so often…

    I’ve just checked on the yearly summary and I used £274 of gas and pay £91 standing charge so a total of £383 inc VAT. Usage was 6780kWh – last year wasn’t great on getting logs dried, the year before I used < 5000kWh of gas because we had a lot of logs

    I disagree.

    Energy should be expensive because the cost of getting it to where it is needed is high; be it energy stored as oil from under the sea being refined and stuck in a tank of a car, or sunlight via photovoltaic cells (which have to be made) through miles of cabling into a household, etc.

    Some of the costs of this energy are not reflected in the price; e.g. coal plants simply pump their waste directly into the air we breathe, but don’t have to build a hospital next door. Obviously these costs are extremely hard to work out.

    It isn’t clear whether the price paid _should_ be the same as the total ‘cost’ but it does make sense to make prices enough to guide/force people to alter their behaviour to reduce energy use. It also makes sense to ‘distort’ the market in such a way to make ways of generating usable energy that have a lower ‘total cost’ more economically favourable than ones that have a higher ‘immediate apparent cost’.

    Obviously governments are talking rubbish when they say ‘money raised by X is spent on Y’. It all goes into one big pot. However, that is irrelevant.

    Now, the big energy companies know they can get away with just leeching off the system and not bothering to invest as the Government must keep the lights on. Therefore they will get bailed out at some point in the future by us having to stump up the money. I’m fine with the government raiding them for cash. Whether it should be nationalised is a question for another time.

    The reason why high fuel bills sting so much is that after rent/mortgage payments, most people are stretched for cash. If house prices were 25% of what they are, no-one would be complaining about high bills (even though they would be a much greater proportion of ‘unavoidable’ expenditure).

    Now, until we’ve moved to a way of generating our energy so that all the costs are included, extra levies are reasonable. People feel cheated by these taxes so as a sweetener, it does make sense to plough some of it back and enable them to use less. Remember, them using less energy benefits us all as the costs not included in the price are paid by the entire populace. (Unevenly, from the larger taxes of the richer person, or the lives of the poor Chinese guys digging the coal out of the ground.)

    Perhaps you might feel better about your taxes paying for someone to improve their efficiency if you thought of it as a long-term investment, of which the manager of the investment (the homeowner improving it) gets a whopping great fee for themselves, but still gives you a decent return eventually?

    1 Dec 2013, 4:56pm
    by ermine


    @Greg I take some of the point on the infrastructure and even possibly on the greening, but what was pissing me off was paying for the Rogers’ insulation – four working age adults in a semi?

    I am building a temperature sensor network and experimenting with solar gain and using a solar air heater from a south facing porch. As I was reading that Guardian article I was watching the temperature slowly fall and figured if I am only going to heat one room why the bloody hell am I paying for other people to not have to take this tried and tested solution? I’m open to the charge of mean-spiritedness, but in the end redistribution of income should be done above the line via the taxation system so we get to vote on it.

    I get no ROI whatsoever out of paying via a higher energy bill to insulate someone else’s home. The shift to a high standing charge is also a disincentive to reduce consumption – even if I reduce usage to 0 I couldn’t cut my gas bill more than 60% without disconnecting.

    Changes to the network to deal with renewables I can live with as we have politically decided that’s where we want to go in the long run. I differentiate between the ‘green crap’ and the ‘social policy crap’ and it’s the latter I object to paying for in this way.

    Heh – it sounds to me as if we paid for the Rogers’ landlord’s insulation! Much better! :-D
    Obviously the Rogers get the ongoing benefit though.

    You do get a ROI on these measures – you (and really I mean the taxpayer over the next 50 years) have to subsidise the building of fewer new power stations, have slightly cleaner air to breathe, or at least don’t have to pay for looking after people that breathe the bad air etc. Obviously this is is remarkably hard to quantify but it is non-zero.

    Just increasing the cost of fuel isn’t enough to get (as many) people to do these things on their own – that’s not how people think.

    I actually think that the Green Deal stuff could have been a valuable happy medium of having the cost of improvements paid off over time at by taking the difference of what the bills would have been without the improvements and also the debt being tied to the house. It struck me as something that someone had actually thought through, addressing your valid complaints. Then the Tories butchered it, making it ridiculous. What’s more, with such a mess being made, that idea will remain dead. Argh! I’m so angry with the current crop of cynical schemers.

    As for the standing charge, or the hidden standing charge of making the first n units more expensive, this is an area that the government could help by forbidding it. While there is an argument for having to pay for the optionality of heating and the costs to the supplier will be non-zero, this would be a simple change that would nudge people in the right direction without costing anything!

    1 Dec 2013, 8:06pm
    by ermine


    I’ll give you that one on ROI though the yield on that investment is low IMO, you wouldn’t rush out to stick it in your ISA ;) There is an opportunity cost to using capital…

    I’m not so sure that people don’t change their behaviour with price. It worked on me – the multifuel stove is a capital investment in diversification and cost reduction. It also changes behaviour – I used to run the central heating through the day in winter, but I don’t any more. Today I won a couple of pallets, sawed hem up and added them to my home wood store, and some others from earlier in the year are in the stove and my central heating is off…

    Re the standing charge, it appears that Ofgem have mandated there be a standing charge + unit price.

    With you on the Green Deal, though I never saw the attraction, personally. And the 8% finance charge and 25 year payback terms aren’t great. If I were buying a house I wouldn’t want to pay the finance costs of the previous owner’s boiler. It’s nuts to take out 25 year finance for a wasting asset like a boiler in the first place – these don’t have a service life that long.

    1 Dec 2013, 9:14pm
    by BeatTheSeasons


    This is a really interesting article, but I do think your starting point should be to take meter readings every month so you know how much gas you’re currently using. Then you can work out the cost/benefit of the various alternatives. An added advantage is that you will have your exact usage next time you switch so you can get the best deal for you, not the typical best deal for someone with a similar house.

    1 Dec 2013, 9:51pm
    by ermine


    @BTS I used the kWh values and costs (once you’d drawn my attention to that the careless £500 guesstimate was way off) from my energy supplier’s annual yearly summary for usage this year compared with last year. These are from meter readings so I hope they are accurate ;) I was able to knock off 1780kWh the year before. However, I have never really got on top of this log processing game because you have to do the work in spring, when it’s getting warmer. Hyperbolic discounting doesn’t just apply to financial decisions, indeed I’m better in finance than getting the logs right. Hence the coal…

    In the old world of usage related unit prices there was a case to be made for trying to identify different usages per quarter but in the Ofgem-mandated standing charge + flat unit rates it doesn’t make a cost difference if you have three quarters of low usage into he A units and one quarter of mahoosive usage into the B rate, or a flat usage pattern. However, I do take your point that more data is better and maybe there’s a case to be made to break out the digicam on the start of the month like today ;)

    2 Dec 2013, 11:08am
    by BeatTheSeasons


    In June/July we used 250 kWh of gas per month and this was just for hot water and hob cooking. At 25p/day standing charge and 3.8p/kWh that’s £7.50 and £9.50 = £17.00 for a month.

    In Jan/Mar which were the coldest months this year we used ten times the volume of gas – 2,500 kWh. If you assume that hot water and hob cooking didn’t go up much then you’re saying the extra 2,250 kWh is all for heating, which means our extra usage cost £85.50 each month, so we spent £102.50 in total for each of the coldest months.

    I was so conditioned to a fixed monthly charge that finding out that the ‘real’ monthly cost varies from £17.00 to £102.50 was something of a revelation to me. The differential would be even greater with a lower or no standing charge.

    On the other hand that extra £85.50 over 30 days is only £2.85 per day. That’s less than a pint of beer or a fancy coffee!

    An awareness of these patterns is definitely a good starting point when you come to compare the cost of burning wood or coal, getting a new boiler, or even an alternative like spending the winter abroad!

    2 Dec 2013, 11:14pm
    by Caroline


    I’d say you are very lucky to have a 20 year old boiler that still works!
    I have been in my old house for 17 years and am now on the 3rd boiler. This time an expensive (supposedly reliable) condensing one, which at 3 years old has just started playing up. They are now so complex that I am struggling to fix it myself and I imagine so will the “experts”. That’s why the last one was replaced – seemingly nothing wrong with it but it just wouldn’t go. This all feeds into my energy costs. I’d love to have a 20 year old boiler that just requires vacuuming out the dust from the inside every once in a while! I wish you could still buy them.
    I’m in a similar position – old house, no cavity walls, very little insulation etc. I have invested in a woodburner and so far have avoided paying for my wood, but it is not the main source of heat.
    I also have a solar oven, which is brilliant for cooking from March to early October. Highly recommended and you could make your own!

    Thanks for an entertaining rant!

    @BTS

    only £2.85 per day. That’s less than a pint of beer or a fancy coffee!

    Tsk, tsk – His Martin Lewis-ness would not approve of that sort of reasoning one little bit!

    But yeah, wine is probably a significantly greater hit on my budget than heating ;)

    @Caroline – Solar oven eh – I think you must live in a more sunny region than even relatively sunny Suffolk. Mrs Ermine did mess about with one made out of cardboard once. She also experimented with a haybox (upgraded with modern insulation) that showed promise.
    The basic repairability of old-skool heating appliances is partly why I am loath to change these, as well as the fact that since mine gets a lot lower usage than typical the gain of changing it is low, particularly when you factor in the lower reliability of modern boilers which increases the rate of depreciation IMO. The whole ‘energy saving’ industry focuses on the increased efficiency of modern boilers, but the fact that the damn things have a service life of only about 10 years means you have to depreciate the cost of a replacement and fitting over 10 years – annual depreciation would be more than the annual gas bill for me! The energy saving industry uses government subsidy to hide this inconvenient truth. A decent amount of the subsidy should go into making appliances more reliable, but then of course the green installer industry would get smaller and we can’t have that, eh?

    My old boiler is obviously a maintenance liability so I do have the cash to change it in a savings account, and indeed that cash is depreciating over time by about 3% p.a. due to financial repression. That is a slower rate than the depreciation of a new boiler ;)

    Part of the rant was that a whole parasitic industry has arisen around government financed ‘energy saving’ which makes much of the potential saving assuming people don’t change their behaviour. People are going to have to change their behaviour in future whether they like it or not.

    If they applied a modicum of intelligence to how they heated their houses they might lower primary consumption. They could do worse that ask their grandparents who had to do more with draughty houses and no CH. The presumption that you have the right to heat the entire house to 21C so the kids can be in their own rooms playing on their iPads is something that needs pushing back on, particularly when other people are bailed in financially to adapt the house to make that possible.

    It’s a pretty rum deal when the government has to remind people that electric blankets are available and can help – now doubt all the bleeding hearts will holler that Rawlings is out of touch. Cameron got a roasting because he had the temerity to suggest people wear warmer clothing. Although it was politically stupid, it’s not fundamentally unsound. Space heating is inherently wasteful compared to localised heating, so if people can’t afford to pay to power their central heating then they should sound the retreat and fight the cold on a smaller front.

    That point is going to come sooner rather than later for many people, and that includes me – prices are rising 10% a year, and this is probably at least partly due to fundamentals and oil peaking. I don’t see incomes rising at 10% p.a. – it is possible that in 20 years’ time central heating will be seen as the height of millenial decadence. I’d rather have dear energy than no energy, and if I am prepared to take steps to lean against the changes coming then I think other people ought to raise their eyes to the future and actually
    do something to help themselves, rather than simply jack up my costs so they don’t need to change their behaviour.

    I feel another rant coming on on this. However, until the sensor network that tracks temperatures inside and outside the house is complete I won’t have enough data to cite evidence, so this mini-rant will have to do for now ;)

    Off topic, but just an FYI that AAS has dropped to a discount and might be worth a closer look over the next week if you have money knocking around. (Insert usual disclaimers.)

    That is rather fine, thank you, I shall keep an eye on that! For anone wonder WTF does that have to do with the price of gas, it doesn’t – it’s related to this post

    3 Dec 2013, 2:42pm
    by Caroline


    I’m using my solar oven in a sunny corner of Bedfordshire, so you probably have more sun in Suffolk! I can get temperatures of 400f on a sunny day. Sorry for the Farenheit temperature but it came all the way from the USA with an inbuilt temp gauge which also had degC printed on it, cunningly designed to fade in sunlight leaving only the degF scale. I have cooked loaves of bread, cakes, casseroles, crispy fried bacon etc. I can send photos. They are expensive to buy but I was given this by friends returning from Arizona to the cloudy north of the UK.

    I have used an electric blanket all my life! Can’t live without it. Also I visited soem friends a whiel back who lived in a big, cold house in Cumbria and they used under-table heating, apparently common in Spain.

    Perhaps we should be subsidising the fleece clothing industry!

    I believe behavioural change is the only answer.

    I am so fed up with the boiler/energy industry. this latest boiler of mine comes with a battery operated room themostat. what’s wrong with using the existing wiring? how does it make any kind of eco sense to go more and more towards throwaway appliances and components?

    Part of the solution with older housing seems to be to knock them down and build new ones, which I struggle to understand too.

    So, what can we do about it all?

    3 Dec 2013, 2:45pm
    by Caroline


    p.s. I love your log store – where did you get those nifty wire basket things? I made mine from four old fence posts and a roof but having divided up sections in that way would work well.

    3 Dec 2013, 4:47pm
    by ermine


    @Caroline – Blimey, that is remarkable. The EU map indicates we are in the same ballpark, and indeed I will have a slight edge. Hehe, our Merkin friends don’t really do C – the selective fading is probably a hint to quit that newfangled metric stuff ;)

    Interesting idea using a table heater – Mrs Ermine sometimes goes for a heater pad to target her feet but I struggle to entertain using electricity for any sort of heating, maybe I shouldn’t be so hidebound!

    There may well be a case for clearing older housing – there used to be a lot of that in the 1970s, and the cost of rebuilding a terraced house is ~30k, which is about a fifth of the purchase cost in many places. We live in a very different way to our mid 19th century ancestors for whom these were built. If retrofitting insulation is about half that, and you still end up with all the other things that may be wrong with a 150 year old house I can see some logic in rebuilding, though it hurts. And I don’t want to pay for it!

    The heating industry does seem to have gone into full on replace, never repair. It’s part of the way we have deskilled a lot of things – few people are trained to understand how things work, the focus is on process and new installation. I had to change a motorised valve actuator and the CH pump but other than that so far so good.

    The wire basket things are from intermediate bulk containers (IBCs). These seems to be used one-way in the food service industry and are to be had secondhand – ebay is a place to start. I consider I achieved an epic fail with the design of that – should have left out the middle one or at least spaced two apart, as the roof carries no significant weight. The IBC has a pallet part and normally the cage goes vertically – I unscrewed the metal pallet, used it to hold the wood off the ground and rotated the cage ot get the horizontal presentation. But I still should have spaced the suckers out more ;)

    Back to IT spotting, MYI’s premium (which stopped me bringing it up before) is being annihilated due to recent under-performance. A bit more generalist than what you were considering but I feel it is probably still a good match. I recommend taking a close look, particularly if it actually goes to a discount.

    Take a look at its holdings here:

    http://tools.morningstar.co.uk/uk/cefreport/default.aspx?tab=8&vw=f&SecurityToken=E0GBR00V3720FCGBR$$ALL&Id=E0GBR00V37&ClientFund=0&CurrencyId=GBP

    @Greg – I got an alert on that one this morning, looks like we have some similarities in our sights ;)

    It appears that we may be living in interesting times again!

    Are you sure you’re not some future version of me?

    If I a) had a load of money spare and b) was with Alliance Trust savings, I’d take advantage of their free dealing until the end of the year on a number of ITs to dribble daily into both AAS (or possibly EFM but I like AAS more) & MYI.

    I wouldn’t get too excited though; there’s still plenty of room to go down from here!

    4 Dec 2013, 3:52pm
    by ermine


    Hehe – I’m still sore about missing out on MYI when I started out in ITs years ago, and they addressed some of what I wanted. But not at a premium…

    > I wouldn’t get too excited though; there’s still plenty of room to go down from here!

    Ah but that’s what makes it ‘interesting’, in at least two of the meanings of the word ;)

    Greetings Mr. ermine!

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for a few months. I’m also an electrical engineer, and I’m following a few years behind you in your escape from the corporate world. I’m currently 48, and pan to pull the plug in 2-4 years or so. Although I’m in the US, I understand much of where you’re coming from!

    What’s prompted me to finally write is something I believe you may be overlooking in the comparison with electricity: a heat pump. And not that it might matter so much in your situation, but it might well for some other readers.

    With a heat pump, the “efficiency” is in effect, greater than 100% when compared to a resistance/radiant electric heater. They are rated using a Coefficient of Performance, which basically compares the amount of heat generated (or moved, actually) per unit of electricity versus a resistive heater. A COP of 2.0 would be twice as efficient as a resistive heater, 5.0 would 5 times as efficient etc. So you can see that electricity could actually be cheaper than some of the alternatives.

    Actual calculations get a little tricky though, because the COP varies with the temperature gradient between the inside of the house and the outside air (or water, if water is the heat source). I see from this website http://www.confusedaboutenergy.co.uk/index.php/renewable-energy/heat-pumps that they estimate an average 2.8 for a typical unit in your area. It’s about 2.5 here in Pennsylvania where I live.

    The other great feature of the heat pump is that can be run in reverse in the summer, and used to cool the house too. So they are extremely popular over here where our high temps are a bit higher and our lows a bit lower. They are practically a no brainer for new construction here, but they can also make sense in a retrofit. Kinda doubt if they would make sense in your case, but you never know.

    This stuff is all fresh in my head because I am currently looking at having some units installed. I primarily want them to replace our window unit air conditioners (we usually run 4-5 of those in the summer). The payback period there should be 8-9 years. We currently heat with an oil boiler and a woodstove. But with heat pumps, I would probably shut down the oil burner for good, and that should drive the payback period down to 3-4 years, if my calculations are correct. After that, my annual savings could be around $2k, which should kick in right around the time I’m retiring!

    @jay_jay I believe that US electrical power is _much_ cheaaper than UK power – largely because of the green levy I was grousign about here, though there are US economies of scale as well. As a result heat pumps may well cost in in the US particularly given the requirement for A/C in the summer. Although A/C is nice in the summer in the UK it isn’t a necessity – this was brought home to me when I flew into LA and decided I couldn’t hack the racket of the A/C in the night. Till I realised that I was still heating up after midnight, and the noise of the A/c was the lesser of two evils ;)

    As result, there’s a lot more to be said for heat pumps in the US – they do exist in the UK, but the financial case is marginal.

    You have got things well on track if you are going to use this investment to reduce your fixed costs on retirement. A lot of my edge is in having canned/minimised fixed costs. I can choose where to fight my consumption battles – I choose to spend more on wine because investing in heating, and being prepared to use waste material like pallets, means I can spend where I want to, rather than have to… In your case, with US electricity prices, a heat pump is seriously to be considered, because you can amortise the cost over a reasonable period, and you are probably dealing with a greater peak to mean ratio of temperature!

     

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