Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How big? How close?

Back to Darrington - this is one of my favourite photoshopped pictures ever of a windfarm:

Maybe I like it because of happy childhood memories of The Tripods, but I can't help feeling that this is a little misleading - they've sited the 125m turbines right behind Pontefract town hall, which does give the most impressive looming effect, but that's way closer to buildings than the actual siting will be.

What would be fairer would be to do the same photo using the same scaling, but with a cooling tower from the nearby Ferrybridge power station, which come in at a whopping 198m, 25% bigger than the 158m high Blackpool Tower (which seems to be standard unit of comparison for these things).

So why is a smaller, less polluting wind-farm more offensive than a much bigger, more polluting coal-fired station just a few miles away?

Perhaps it's an attempt to repeat this famous picture of Black Law of Scotland:

Again, quite arresting, but I'd like to see that from a slightly different view before I make my mind up ...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bang go the batteries ...

or perhaps "fizzzz". Whatever, there's not much going on at the moment. We went camping at the weekend, planning to go the ever-excellent Come Together festival in Henley. Getting the beer cold, I noticed the voltage on the battery dropping scarily low, to below 11volts.

This is bad.

We then found out the festival was cancelled 2 weeks ago - this is pretty bad, not least for the organisers who I've bumped into a few times here and there, and seem really decent people. It's also pretty bad for the young people of Henley and surrounding areas - I don't think the "official" Henley festival later in the year is going to make up for it, what with £60 a day, formal dress and the Gypsy Kings on a floating stage. Yet another victim of the new licensing & security laws that are driving so many worthwhile small events out ... but I digress.

Before leaving the van for the night (it was a lovely weather, and there's lots of worse places to be than Henley on a nice May evening), I did possibly the worse thing imaginable, looking back. My van came with a dual battery wiring system, so I put another battery onto the other connection. I thought it might help a bit. Looking back, this is just the first of the evening's events I'm blaming the vodka-redbull on

I'm no expert on batteries, but one thing I've learnt is that you have to be careful about matching them up in power ratings. If you connect differently rated batteries together, then the "weaker" one will drag down the more powerful one down.

The other thing to check, if you haven't been drinking all day, is if the second battery you're adding actually has any charge in it. It really does seem that if you connect a knackered flat 70 amp hour car battery to your pained 110 amp hour deep cycle battery, well ... things may not turn out well

There was blazing sunshine all day Sunday, and I turned the panels up at an angle to get the maximum power, but the input power never got much up above 2 amps, when I would have expected at least 3 amps from the conditions. Looking back, this was probably due to increased resistance from a dying battery, but I'm not sure.

During charging, the voltage struggled up to about 12.5 volts, but whenever I took the charge off to see how it was doing without, it dropped to about 10.5. This is very bad. Campsites can be a suprisingly socially hostile environment, especially when you've got a roof full of renewables and a flat battery

Luckily, my brother-in-law came to the rescue. Not only does he come with a supply of vodka and entire crates of Stella, he also had jump-leads. We tried a jump-start, and even with him revving his engine, all we managed to do was melt his leads! Even luckier, he also had a terrifying pair of industrial strength leads which finally got us going.

We limped back home, and the whilst the battery voltage was about 12.5 volts when we switched the engine off, it was down to about 10.3 after a few hours rest. The Elecsol Manual calls 10.7 v the bare minimum for their batteries.

We've had the battery for about 5 years now, the guarantee period, and it has had a hard life, so I'm not really complaining. Lessons to learn:

  • keep an eye on your voltage levels, and switch off the load when you hit 11v (at the bare minimum, though you will find it will rise when the load is taken off)
  • match your battery capacities if you link 2 or more up together
  • avoid "maintenance" after a day of drinking vodka in the hot sun on an empty stomach

and this is without mentioning the wind turbine mounting and siting fiasco ...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Beware the cheap eBay solar panels ...

last year I got what I thought was a good deal on eBay for a 17watt solar panel

less than 10 months later, and really only a few weeks of serious operation, and it's dead! No current at all, a mere 6volts on the multimeter (you expect to see about 16v)

so beware cheapo bargains ...

Update 13/5/08 - the eBay vendor has been in touch, and offered some possible solutions ...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

When wind turbines go bad

A whole blog dedicated to malfunctioning wind turbines ...


but out of context --- it'll be interesting to compare the actual audited dangers from wind-turbines, as opposed to coal (hugely lethal on a hardly noticed scale) or nuclear (usually extremely safe, apart from the odd continent-poisoning catastrophe). From what I've seen, the biggest danger associated with wind-turbines is the sudden "thump" when you fall off

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Darrington Wind Farm

The village in Yorkshire I grew up in, Darrington, is being split over a proposed new wind-farm development. Well, "split" is probably the wrong word, "uninamously enraged" is probably more appropriate, at least to the people I've spoken to.

It doesn't seem that the Bankable Models Which Enable Local Community Wind Farm Ownership guidelines are being followed particularly closely, and that a landowner has done a deal with a developer, with the locals feeling as if they're having a huge development dumped on their doorstep, to provide benefit for others, with little to them.

A local campaign group has been set up - the Pontefract Windfarm Action Group, who have been active in raising awareness of the potential impact the turbines could have. One of the earlier actions was to raise a blimp to the approximate height and location of the highest point of the turbine tip:

I'll keep tracking the progress of both the wind farm and the local campaign, but it was worth looking at a map of the local area:

by the side of the wind-farm, between the nearest houses, is the A1 dual carriageway, and just to the north is Ferrybridge, the coal-fired power station that marks the beginning of "Megawatt Valley", target of the first Climate Camp.

So the proposed turbines are undoubtedly quite big, but will they have the impact on the local environment as claimed by the local action group?