1 year of solar panels + energy costs…

It’s been 1 year since we had the solar PV panels installed on the front roof of our house. It’s been a really inspiring and life-changing experience in many ways and we’re more aware now of how much energy we’re using and what times of day it’s best to use certain energy-intensive appliances.

So, over the year, the panels produced nearly 1250 units of electricity, which will give us around £540 from the feed in tariff (at 43.3p per unit) and equaled 43% of the electricity we used.

The types of fuel we’ve been using are wood, gas and electricity. For gas, there is an equation which the gas companies use to convert the metric units of gas which is burned in the boiler or oven/hob to a KW/h ‘unit’.

units used x calorific value x volume correction / conversion to KWh = gas used in KWh

This is… X units x 39.3 x 1.022640 / 3.6 = X KWh

This allows you to compare the actual energy that is used for gas and electric, in a comparable unit, in this case KWh. This is a bit geeky but the figures below (even for what turns out to be our very low usage) are pretty big, especially when the gas and electric consumption is compared with what our solar panels are generating. Here are our figures for the last year…

(01/01/2011 to 01/01/2012)

Gas = £249.18 or 3371 KWh

Electric = £374.52 or 2923 KWh

(01/02/2011 to 01/02/2012 – our 1st full month generating was February 2011)

Solar panels = £540 (income) or 1248.9 KWh

So, £623.70 spent on gas and electric for the whole year. Add to this the £360 for the 6M3 of firewood for the space heating of the living areas gives £983.70, which is the total spent on fuel/energy for the year.

The total in energy terms (KWh) was 6294 for gas and electric. I’m not sure how to work out the KWh provided by the wood though??

From the cost of £983.70, the income from the solar panels should be deducted (£540), giving a grand total spent on energy for the year of £443.70!

Two really important issues come out of this. The first is the comparison of KWh totals for generated and used, as follows.

Total generated = 1,248.9 KWh

Total consumed = 6,294 KWh

There’s obviously a bid difference there and even with the solar panels, with the consumption roughly 5 times more than the generated (or even more if you add in the unknown energy value for the wood). Solar panel efficiency has got a long way to go before it’s able to claw back some of this difference.

The second thing to highlight is the ‘average’ figures for 3-bed semis, which all the price comparison websites use for their standard figures. These are their figures for consumption per year.

  • Average electricity usage of 3,300 kWh for standard single rate electricity that’s averaged across all regions and
  • Average gas usage of 20,500 kWh per household

Assuming 8p per KWh unit of gas and 10p per KWh unit of electricity would give…

Gas: £0.08 x 20,500 KWh = £1,640

Electric: £0.10 x 3,300 KWh = £330

Combined total = £1,970

If this total figure is used as a comparison, our total of £443.70 is amazing. This is 22% of the average and i’m proud that all the combined features we’ve installed and the way we live has led to this figure. It makes all the chopping of the fire wood much more appealing!

Why I went on strike…

This wasn’t an easy decision to make and up until fairly close to the day I wasn’t convinced either way, which is unusual for me. I normally hold fairly strong views on most issues and try and research the background first which helps to inform my decisions.

In this case, I hadn’t done much research and so apart from being a member of UNISON and wanting to support my fellow members, I didn’t have strong views. I also don’t have a local authority pension so going on strike over pension reform didn’t immediately seem like the best option for me.

So, why did I go on strike? Answer: George Osborne. Thanks to his Autumn Statement, released just before the strike action, I changed the emphasis of how I was looking at the whole issue and found a different reason. This reason was the freezing pf public sector pay. The freezing of the pay for the public servants of the country is a further burden, added to the huge numbers of workers already sacked. Our pay has already been frozen for the last couple of years and the result of the proposals would be a further 3 years of freeze!

The statement sets out a 1% pay cap for 2 years after the first freeze year. 1% is still roughly 4% below inflation, meaning 5 years of below inflation pay deals. When the cost of living is rising sharply and the real income is frozen, there is a further pressure on already tight finances. The added annoyance of working for the general public’s benefit but still getting this kind of treatment also adds to the ill feelings.

The other point was the issue of regulated rail fares rising by up to 6%: another above inflation cost to the public transport sector which will either put more people back onto the roads or make the people who are still on the trains pay more. This follows a trend of above inflation rises which just exacerbates the problem.


Debt snowballing 2…

Ok, we’re getting very excited about all this debt reduction activity.

I’ve just calculated some figures using the BBC Homes mortgage calculator. The £98K mortgage could be paid off in 10.5 years, based on an interest rate of 6% and a monthly payment of £1,000. This goes down to 9 years if £1,200 is paid each month (at 6%).

This £1K payment would be possible if we use all the money which we were putting into the loan and credit card each month, added to the existing monthly payment for the mortgage.

So, in about 2 years time (once the credit card and loan is paid off), this is the plan, meaning in about 12 years from now, we should be debt free.


Snowballing debt…!

Well, the subject of the post isn’t about debts rising out of control, but rather the opposite – a snowballing of debt reduction!

Claire has just got us onto the path towards the light and we are now planning on shortening the time it takes to pay back the credit card, loan and mortgage.

How will this be done? Well, Claire has just setup a new blog (yes, another one!) which is dedicated to this new phase in our evolution! It will contain all the figures and details but the point of it is to shift all of our spare cash into the debts to pay them off more quickly. We’ll reduce any spending which we can and put these savings towards the smallest debt first, in our case the credit card.

Once this is cleared, in roughly 9 months, the monthly payments which were going to pay that credit card off (as well as the minimum payment) will be diverted to the next debt, which is the loan which was partly used to buy the solar panels and insulated render. Once this loan is paid off, in 2 years instead of 5, all of the funds will then be focussed on the mortgage. At this point, Claire has calculated there will be an extra £640 going into the mortgage, with a total of £1,120 being put in every month (compared with the usual £480).

This will mean a mortgage term of 7 years as opposed to 25! Claire has worked out that in nearly 12 years (taking into account the time it takes to pay off the other two smaller debts), we can be debt free and in a home we own outright!

The other side of the equation is increased income which could be focussed on the debts. There are loads of ways to bring in more money and even £50 a month would make a big difference over a couple of years (£50 p/m over 2 years is £1,200). The key is to not spend it!

Well worth considering for anyone with any kind of debt and I can see a lot less stress with much reduced debts.


Rising fuel costs…

So fuel prices are about to go up again. I’m getting used to prices for everything going up but this is a price rise which will really hurt when it comes to winter, or actually just after when the energy companies start insisting people pay them!

The combined energy bill for the average UK home is £1,200 per year, but edging towards £1,300 after the latest price rises.

I did some research into fuel costs around 6 months ago, during the very cold winter period, which incidentally, was officially the coldest winter for 31 years , according to the Met Office. This was to try and work out what it would cost to install and run a central heating system. This could be useful to a lot of people as it’s not the sort of thing that is commonly looked into, and from the various sources i’ve looked at, it’s also not something which is easy to work out. But, this could have a big impact on how much money is being spent over the winter period.

According to www.electricityprices.org.uk, the following are the averages per household used by ofgem…

  • Average electricity usage of 3,300 kWh for standard single rate electricity that’s averaged across all regions and
  • Average gas usage of 20,500 kWh per household

We did a fair bit of research into electricity prices and consumption when the solar panels were installed, but the gas side wasn’t covered. According to The Energy Shop website, the average gas bill is £780 per year.

Other sites have the total energy figure at nearer £375 per quarter, which totals roughly £1,500. Yet another gas only figure is roughly £760, from a forum.

Another way to work it out is to separate the space heating and water heating & cooking elements, i.e. central heating from other boiler uses, such as cooking, water heating etc. Another site has a ratio of 15,200kWh for space heating & 2,500 kWh for hot water per year. This makes the gas needed for space heating 6 times more than for hot water.

So, a £770 gas bill splits as £660 for space heating and £110 for hot water. I went over our own hot water and cooking only figure to see what it is. This was easy on the British Gas comparison site, which gives you readings information from previous bills.

The comparison it’s giving us is for Gloucester, but this can be further broken down into postcode areas and more specific house types. It’s giving the average for our type of property as 3,800 KWh, with our usage being much lower, at 719 KWh, for the 3 months leading up to that point (April 11th to July 11th). Our usage is 5.2 times less than the Gloucester average!

The total was 4,046.7 KWh for 2010. Multiplied by 6.5p per KWh = £263 for hot water and cooking (not CH). If I use a 4 x ratio, the central heating cost would be £263 x 4 = £1,052.

So, non space heating = £263

Space heating (estimate) = £1,052

Total gas usage (estimate) = £1,315

Overall, the ratio seems to be roughly 4 or 5 times more for space heating, but as I said, it’s very hard to find solid information to base things on, particularly as there is almost no way in practice of separating out the heating and hot water functions, during normal conditions. To get an accurate figures for an accurate ratio, you’d have to setup two boilers which each had different functions, one for space heating and one for hot water & cooking.

Added to this is the cost of buying wood for the wood-burner, which provides most of our space heating (this year it’s £360 for 6 M3, which should be all we need). This is needed from October to March (6 months), but obviously much more during the coldest months during winter).

There is also the cost of the electricity to power the two radiators in both the bedrooms which we use during the winter at night. This is where it gets tricky, as I don’t know how long they are on for each night. The rads we have are efficient oil-filled ones from France, which only draw power for roughly 1/3 of the time that they are turned on, given that some of the heat is stored within the oil and then released slowly.

They are both 1 KW rads which are on for roughly 10 hours per day, so drawing power for 3 hours per day each, or to keep it simple, 6 hours if both are combined. So, 6 KWh (units) per day to power the rads. This is why our electric usage goes up so high in winter!

6 units per day, running for maybe 5 months over winter (estimate again), = 6 x 150 (days) = 900 units total. This works out as £0.105 per unit x 900 = £94.50.

So, the total fuel bill for us at the moment (for space heating, cooking and hot water) can be worked out as follows…

Gas = £263

Wood = £360

Electricity = £94.50

Total = £717.5

I’m not including the other electric costs for appliances as i’m focussing mainly on heating – of air, water, food etc.

The image above shows that even though we are using more than five times less gas, the cost is only three times less! Based on this, the 4 x ratio of extra gas needed doesn’t convert exactly into cost, so if I assume a 2.5 ratio for cost, this would mean £263 gas for non-space heating x 2.5 = £657 just for central heating (space heating).

£263 + £657 = £920 for all gas. So, it would roughly cost us another £657 for the gas for central heating per year. If you wanted to be really picky, you could then take away the electric cost of the rads (given we would have central heating) and part of the wood cost. This could be more like £657 minus £94.50 minus £180 = £382.50.

There are obviously a few guesstimates involved with this but it’s worth going through it before we make a decision, especially given the rising cost of fuel.


Car death…!

The car is now officially off the road.

We got back from my Mum’s place in Bristol, having just been to Westonbirt and pulled up alongside the space at the front of our house. Claire tried to put it reverse gear but it just wouldn’t go in! On the journey back, she had been saying that 1st and 3rd gears were also getting harder to shift. So, we went around the block and went in to the space front first, then I pushed the car back into the space!

I tried to get it into reverse and managed it, but not before some serious grinding and difficulty. The clutch has officially died. Maybe also the gear box.

On leaving Mum’s, she had said good-bye to the car (having been the previous owner) and we had been talking about giving it up within the next few days on the journey home. So between reversing at Mum’s place and arriving at home, the reverse gear failed. I think there’s some kind or Herbie thing going on!

It’ll be 1 less car on the road, lots of positives for the environment and £170+ per month savings. The 1994 Nissan Sunny had done 81,000 miles and is 17 years old. I’ve been driving that car since I was 17 (on and off) and we’ve owned the car outright for the last 2.5 years.


Time to ditch the car…?

We’re getting very excited about the new Gloucester car club, which has just recently been opened, after years of contributions from developments in the city. Section 106 planning funds have been brought together to fund the provision of 5 car club cars, all positioned around the city centre, and all within roughly 20 minutes walk from our house!

So, the scheme is being run by commonwheels car club, and the cars are all Nissan Notes, all brand new and which seem a good size. We went on a mini hunt while coming back from the shops yesterday and Claire jumped out and had a look inside one of them!

Nissans product brochure: Nissan Note

The scheme involves a £25 one-off joining fee and £4.25 per hour to hire the car, with a 0.19p per mile fuel charge. There is also a £5 minimum monthly spend + a £15 one-off additional member fee for the smart card.

When this is compared to the £2,000 a year cost of running our car at the moment, it could really save a lot of money and hassle. If you consider the tax, petrol, MOT and servicing, and the time it takes to organise things, the ease of just booking the car club car then just leaving it would be amazing. It cost us roughly £170 per month at the moment to run the car and this is one of our biggest costs. This month we have paid £85 in petrol!

In terms of sustainability, we would be using the car less (as it wouldn’t be parked right outside the house) and also sharing the cars with everyone else in the centre. There would be less CO2 being emitted as most of the processing associated with the running of the car would be shared.

Another part of the process is to use the money we would save to buy bikes for Claire and I + a pull along shopping carrier buggy, which we could load up for trips to the supermarket etc. They can also be used to carry a child, but we’re not sure about this yet!


Libya, energy and Peak Oil…

I don’t normally need an excuse to start going on about energy production and climate change but…

Have you seen the cost of petrol? In our general area (SW England), the price now roughly stands at £1.30 per litre, which has gone up from the £1 per litre level roughly 4 years ago. In 4 years, the price has gone up by 23%. This is very important not just for running your family car but for everything which a large part of our human civilisation needs to survive, including energy and food production.

This is a bit of a jumbled post, but i’m trying to bring together a few related, but also different subjects. I’m trying to comment on the things going on in Libya right now (without launching into a full-on analysis of Middle-Eastern politics – i’ll save that for another post!), energy supply and demand, and a pinch of Peak Oil!

A “bumpy plateau” with a downward trend in extraction.

This is how The UK Energy Research Council described the pattern of oil production in the coming years. This ‘bumpy plateaux’ is describing the upcoming period of activity where we enter the period of oil production known as Peak Oil, where the level of extraction starts to level off. The human population is growing fast (this year the world population will hit 7 Billion) and our dependence on mechanised transport, food production etc is also growing fast. This creates a large and increasing demand for oil to power and sustain the human population. The supply of easily extractable oil is levelling off, and will start to fall in the short-term. This means demand will outstrip supply.

Peak oil is not a “theory.” Because oil is a finite resource, it is an inevitability. The debate is all about its timing.

From the report: ‘Reserve estimates are uncertain, reporting is restricted, auditing is insufficient, harmonisation is limited, distortions are likely.’

The ‘bumpy plateaux’ also refers to the process of needing to find harder to reach supplies of oil than we previously needed to, just to stay at the same level of supply. These new supplies will be harder to find and extract and it will cost more. This will lead to price fluctuations and supply problems, which will have a massive impact on our society. It has emerged recently that the Saudi oil reserves have been over-estimated by maybe 40%! This is the world’s top oil producer saying it has nearly half the reserves of oil that it claimed to. This is part of the bumpy ride which will contribute to the ever-increasing price of oil.

Spanish Government intervention…

A frankly amazing example of what will need to start to happen is being provided by Spain (this is where Libya comes in!). A Guardian article recently, talked about the connection between Libya and Spain, via oil production (see pdf below if the link doesn’t work anymore).

PDF document: Spain to lower speed limit as oil prices rise

The Spanish Government is proposing to reduce the maximum motorway speed limit, a 5% reduction of train fares and an increase in the amount of biofuel added to the petrol that the oil companies produce.

It’s a really interesting article, particularly in terms of the reaction to the crisis in Libya and in terms of the scale of change that can be brought about in response to a perceived threat. The key financial thing here is the 15% less cost of running a vehicle at less than 10 mph reduced speed. This is a large shift.

After reading this article, I did a little test while driving to West Brom yesterday: I checked what the rev counts were at 65 mph and 75 mph. Well, there were 2700 revs at 65 mph and 3300 revs at 75 mph. This is a 500 revs difference, or 15% less revs at 65 mph.

At £1.30 per litre for petrol, it now costs us £50 to fill up the car! Maybe one side effect of the unrest in a number of key oil producing countries will be to wake people up a bit to how totally dependent we are on this vital and diminishing resource.