Saturday, 2 July 2011

Sparks start to fly

The electrician turned up at the building site on Friday. I asked about getting the solar panels connected to the power conditioners so that it would be possible to use the free electricity I've paid a lot to get, rather than the builders having to pay for electricity brought to the site. He proceeded to give reasons why this was not a good idea, which mostly annoyed rather than illuminated. I'm already more or less resigned to the fact that the panels will be sat on the roof soaking up a whole summer's sun from the beginning of June, and I won't be able to sell any to the electricity company until I move in and start a contract with them in October.

Actually, first I asked what would happen in the event of a power cut, and he said that, in the case of an earthquake or disaster, a signal would be sent from the electricity company to switch off the power conditioners. This was also a bit of shock (though fortunately not an electric shock) but seems sensible as there may be a loose wire somewhere after an earthquake and it's best to shut off the power. A plug is available on each power conditioner for emergency use.  

Anyway, the first reason he gave for not connecting the panels was that it would be dangerous. Apparently there's a lot of electricity in those wires, and it would be dangerous to connect them. Somebody might die. The panels are there soaking up sunlight now, sending frustrated electrons and holes in opposite directions, but destined never to meet on the other side of a circuit. So, I asked, if the wires are going to be connected to a power conditioner, then what's the difference? 

But somebody might cut the wires. 

Well, surely there's a lot of electricity in the wires now anyway, and somebody might cut the wires now? 

Next, he seemed to think there wouldn't be enough electricity. It's rated at over 9 kilowatts. If it's running at half power, that's still over 4 kilowatts. At 100 volts, that's 40 amps. I know they're running a workshop, but that seems like quite a lot of electricity. As long as there's more coming into the power conditioner than going out, it shouldn't cause a problem. Well, electricians like to work at night time. 

Couldn't they bring a torch?

This makes me wonder how much the idea of a low-energy house has got through to the people making it. 

By the way, he told me, it didn't make any difference to the electricity bill how much they used. There was a standard rate, paid regardless of how much power was used.

But, actually, really, the main reason for not connecting the power conditioners was that they didn't want to start using the them as they will start wearing out. They want to hand everything over in pristine order. Also, they didn't want the power conditioner to get damaged. If they put it in place, there's a chance that it'll be damaged by the workmen. 

In and among, they were talking about new government plans for houseowners with solar panels to be able to sell all the electricity they produce, at the premium rate, and buy all the electricity they use at lower rates. One argument they had against this was that it would not encourage people to save electricity. The current system means that you're much better off selling your electricity than using it, so people will generally try to switch things off, especially during the day when electricity demand is higher. 

I may be over sensitive or paranoid, but I can't help feeling from their general tone that they think all this energy saving and solar power is complete nonsense, and they may of course be right, but more about that another day. 

I was looking, later, at the 230 watt incandescent bulb that the carpenter has brought to illuminate the workspace. Just wondering what that was doing in a house that's trying to reduce carbon emissions. This one bulb will probably use more electricity than all the lights in the completed house. It would be a great heater on cold winter nights. I'm sure the carpenter has heard of low energy lighting, but it comes down to economics. This kind of bulb is cheaper to buy, and he doesn't have to pay for the electricity. The builders pay for the electricity and the carpenter is just their subcontractor. In fact not even the builders really pay for the electricity, because there's a flat rate regardless of how much is used. 

Energy efficiency is not just a question of technology. Energy efficient technology must be used. In fact, that may not lead to energy efficiency; the important thing is that energy-inefficient technology is not used. Even energy efficient technology should be used as little as possible. These are not questions of technology but of design, economics and politics. The technology is actually not so difficult! Anyway, it may be a little optimistic to think that energy efficiency is going to reduce energy consumption.