May 2016 to March 2017 Solar Storage Data

As the days get longer, our solar generation increases. March actually generated about the same as last September but the Wattstor battery control system is cautious about allowing the batteries to discharge beyond 70% or so until it’s confident there’s enough light hours in the day to fill them. Our lead acid batteries perform better and last longer if fully charged, but they won’t charge at high power for the last 15% or so of their capacity, so won’t reach 100% until the days are several hours longer. We think this explains why, despite there being as much solar generation in March as in September, this month saw both much higher grid export and import as the batteries were not maximising their storage capacity to the same extent.

We hope April 2017 will see our first 100% charge, possibly on the same day as we hear the first cuckoo.

As usual, the charts below show (i) our updated daily averages for our various power sources, and (ii) the percentage of our power usage coming directly from the sun, directly from the grid, or from the sun via the batteries.

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Underground Energy Storage

The Glyn Rhonwy pumped storage scheme has apparently received the go-ahead, overcoming objections to any development like this in a National Park.  It uses a disused slate quarry for the upper reservoir, which should make the overall development cheaper, and limit any new environmental impact.

Pumped hydro storage is efficient and good value for money so it’s a shame that the best places to do it tend to be wild uplands where we are most uncomfortable about industrial intrusions of this type.

Here’s an idea for a pumped storage scheme using abandoned coal mine workings.  It could offer even greater capacity than Glyn Rhonwy, with even less environmental disturbance.  If it could be made to work, it should be readily reproducible elsewhere in Wales.

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The divisive nature of referendums

We’ve experienced two referendums in the UK in the past 2 years (first Scotland’s Indyref and then the UK’s Brexit). Both have proved socially divisive – across and within countries, across and within regions and neighbourhoods and even across and within families.

Unlike General elections, referendums offer a binary choice – black or white? Whereas what we are choosing to vote for in elections is nuanced because of the mix of manifesto policies and leadership qualities about which one might hold a mix of views. And our lives don’t change irrevocably when one government replaces another and, if we don’t like what we get, then there’s a chance to review and vote differently in 5 years’ time.

In contrast, referendums force us to make a binary choice which (at least in the two most recent cases) will make a huge and irrevocable difference to all our lives. Consequently, having voted we feel challenged to justify the choice we made – particularly if friends, colleagues or even families voted differently. Cognitive dissonance operates and soon we have amassed a whole set of reasons why our choice was right and others’ choice was both wrong and ‘stupid’. The more our ‘rationale’ is challenged by others (or by subsequent events) the more the opinions supporting our behavioural choice become entrenched. It’s easy because we engage in such post-hoc rationalisation all the time and largely unconsciously.

But it might actually be more fundamental than that. Psychology studies (‘the Minimum Group Paradigm) have shown that, even when people are allocated to one of two groups on a purely ad hoc basis, they exhibit in-group versus out-group behavior. They behave in ways which favour members of the same group over members of the other group even if this costs them and their group. If members of one group  are subsequently transferred to the other group, they aren’t treated as favourably as the ‘original’ members  – they have to serve their time as effective  outsiders or ‘migrants’!

So, hypothetically speaking,  even voters allocated randomly into two groups labelled those who voted ‘A’ and those who voted ‘B’,  would start to view those in the ‘other’ group less favourably than those in the their own group. If asked to justify why they thought they were allocated to A rather than B, they would happily generate convincing ‘rationale’ which made them feel their allocation was definitely right and their group was superior even though the selection was actually random.

So, if we think that people who voted differently from us in either referendum are less worthy or even ‘stupid’, let’s remember that, as primitive emotional beings, we are quite capable of developing such views and accompanying ‘rationale’ even if our initial group membership was allocated randomly.

mirror people

How could you lot be so stupid?

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May 2016 to Feb 2017 – Solar Storage Data

Spring is in sight and we have just done the analysis of February’s performance with our solar PV (4kW) plus Wattstor battery (6kWh) system.  The longer days and the sun being higher in the sky have started to make a significant difference despite much of February being gloomy and wet. Some of our evening cooking and lighting (once the sun has set) is now supported by Bert-the-battery rather than from the grid.

Chart 1 shows the daily Wh averages for each month since May 2016. Our daily consumption is staying relatively steady at just over 8kWh/day. (It does vary somewhat day to day depending on the significant effect of charging our Twizy which also has a 6kWh battery to fill. We try to charge the Twizy when the sun is contributing the most to avoid either taking from the grid or depleting Bert-the-battery in order to fill another battery. In the winter, that’s hard to manage.)


Chart 2 shows the percentage of our daily electricity consumption which comes from each source – the solar panels directly, the solar via the battery or directly from the grid. In February, 31% of our consumption was covered by the solar and battery combined – the best performance since October. The battery alone contributed 12.5% of our consumption. Because the lead acid batteries spend most of their time on absorption as opposed to bulk charging (to protect themselves), we aren’t capturing as much of the solar into the battery (for later use) as we would like. As Chart 1 shows, the actual solar generation was up to 50% of the overall consumption but the amount of the solar generated power which the battery could absorb in real time is restricted so roughly 25% of it was passed to the grid for others to use. We try to view this in a generous spirit!


We now look forward to the long sunny days of March (typical weather here in Wales of course..).



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May 2016 to January 2017

This month saw a small increase in solar output, offset by a major face-lift on our house which increased our electricity demand – the cement mixer and jack hammer are both electric!    So although the solar output has started its slow recovery after the Winter solstice, the proportion of our demand met by solar energy – either directly or via the battery – remained about the same as December.





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May to December 2016 – Domestic Solar Battery Data

“‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;”

So, how has Bert, our Wattstor solar battery, fared in this darkest month of the year?

The chart below shows the daily Wh averages for each of the 8 months we’ve had the system. It shows our daily demand, the solar PV input, the amount we’ve had to import from the grid and the amount we’ve exported to the grid because it’s more than the battery can absorb at that point in time.

dec-avsOur demand stayed fairly level at around 8kWh per day. The solar dropped to an average of 2.3 kWh a day and it rarely got a chance to generate a surplus (over the amount the house was using) in order to top up Bert-the-battery. It still managed to export an average of 408 Wh/day to the grid when we would (selfishly) rather have that stored in the battery for our own use! Still, at least it’s public spirited and we are being paid for everything we generate.

The 2nd chart shows the proportion of the electricity we have used each month which is provided by each source – either directly from the solar panels or from solar stored in the battery or from the grid.

decpercentNot surprisingly, 84% of the electricity we consumed in December came from the grid. We still got 8% from the solar panels directly and 7% solar via the battery.

It’s now January and already the sun is disappearing behind the hill a few minutes later each day so stay tuned for a bigger yellow and orange bar in January.

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In a world without jobs, how do we prosper?

prosperingThe concept of a universal basic income (if a way can be found to achieve it) could help address a combination of problems. It would replace the administratively complex, expensive and psychologically debilitating benefits system. It would avoid people doing jobs which don’t pay enough for them to live on. It would allow people to give up a job they hate in order to study or to develop or practice a skill or to look after an ageing relative. It also addresses a future where increasing automation means there are fewer and fewer permanent jobs. If we also factor in so-called “bullshit jobs” – i.e. jobs which seemingly make no difference whether anyone does them or not, then an alternative form of income would be even more welcome.

But, if a universal basic income could pay every UK citizen enough to cover their basic needs whether or not they had a job,  what would people then do with their lives – could they flourish without ‘a job’ to go to?

A number of research bodies are now exploring what constitutes individual and societal well-being or prosperity when that is decoupled from our current way of measuring it solely in terms of GDP. As, Robert Kennedy famously pointed out 50 years ago the Gross Domestic Product …measures everything .. except that which makes life worthwhile”.

I’ve never studied the role which paid employment plays in our sense of well-being once we have enough income to cover our everyday needs. But I have studied other kinds of experiences outside of work which we don’t get paid for but which clearly energise and satisfy us. Can we learn anything from those?

A few days ago, I reread some behavioural research which I carried out a while ago. We were exploring how and why experiential consumer products were compelling – often more so than material products. Over a period of years, we had worked with clients on experiential products in some very different domains: art, sailing, digital technology, rugby and education. As we analysed the language people used to talk about their experiences (good, neutral or bad), a clear pattern emerged of 3 distinct but overlapping dimensions which increased people’s enjoyment, engagement and a desire for more.

The 3 dimensions which emerged were: stimulation, individual expression and social connection. Not all 3 were present in all experiences but when they did combine, those were considered the most powerful and engaging experiences.


This was the degree to which the experience stimulated either people’s physical senses –  their sight, sound touch, taste or smell – or their minds – their intellect, ideas or imagination.

Individual expression

This was the degree to which people could express their personality, skill or creativity though the experience – i.e. make the experience unique and different through their  interaction with it.  In all the domains we studied, we found that this dimension created the most deeply satisfying experiences which last the longest after the stimulating event is over.

Social connection

This was the degree to which the experience triggered a sense of belonging or intimacy with others. In some cases, this came from the shared exhilaration of achieving a challenge together or sharing a moment of intense emotion. In other cases, it was competitive – feeling a rush of adrenalin from pitching their wits or skills against another person.

It seems likely that the world of work operates on the same 3 dimensions. Where people are lucky enough to have a job they really enjoy, it’s probably because it scores highly on one or (if they are lucky) all 3 dimensions. They are physically and/or intellectually stimulated; they can express their individual creativity or skill and affect what happens and they feel part of a vibrant social group achieving things together or matching themselves against others.

Conversely, if they lose their job or are stuck in a “bullshit” job, then their language  probably reflects the painful absence along one, if not all of the 3 dimensions. They are bored and depressed – lacking any challenge or new ideas or imagination. They feel that they have nothing to contribute, they aren’t able to make a difference and have lost a sense of their identity and self-worth. Finally, they feel isolated – they no longer belong to a social group who share a common activity and purpose. I’m guessing (but I don’t know) that even if they received the same income as when they had the job, they would still feel negatively along our 3 dimensions as none of these (I think) are strictly dependent on the actual ££ income involved. (Although the amount you currently get paid can be interpreted (albeit inaccurately) as what you are worth in capitalist rather than social terms).

It would be interesting to test the correlation between pay and well-being in terms of the 3 dimensions.

The fact that the positive experiences which working can deliver might be independent of  income gives me hope for people’s sense of well-being in a world where there are no jobs for a vast swathe of the population. If there is a means whereby everyone can be provided with a universal income which covers their basic needs, then the challenge is for all of us to find and develop diverse activities and experiences which pay no money but deliver just as compellingly engagement (in many cases much more) along one or more of the 3 dimensions discussed. For society’s sake, we also need these to contribute to the well-being of communities. Professor Tim Jackson’s recent discussions of the human service sectors of the economy namely care, craft, culture and creativity might be a way to explore this further.

But, how we can test this in the messy real world? I don’t currently know but even thinking about the possibilities engages me (whilst not being paid by anyone directly to to do so!) along at least two of the experiential dimensions!



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