Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Home-made Solar Panels – Part 1 – Construction ...

Earlier this year, we decided to have a go at making our own solar panels.   It's very much a small and experimental array to check out the construction techniques, the costs and the economics of solar generation at our particular location. 

We have a shallow low-level south-facing roof over the kitchen and garage, with an open aspect to the west, so this seemed an ideal location.

We bought a 1kW kit of 6"x3" polycrystalline cells which came complete with rolls of tabbing and busbar wires and also with the flux-pens needed for soldering of the tabs.

I also spotted a job-lot of ex static-caravan windows on eBay and bought 12 for £10 each.  These were single-glazed windows removed from old caravans during refurbishment.  It was a couple of hundred miles round-trip to collect them, but well worth it for ready-glazed aluminium frames.  The sizes I bought were all around 42"x32".

Five cleaned frames trial-fitted into our roof mounting structure
When you're working out how many cells can fit into your frame, bear in mind that the cells are not exactly 6"x3" – in fact, they're usually 150 x 80 mm and 80 mm is almost 4 mm larger than 3", so we know from experience that this can screw up your layouts if you're drawing up the panels when waiting for the cells to be delivered !  Our frames each allowed a maximum of 60 cells, laid in 5 rows of 12.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Camping in Europe...holiday on the cheap ?

It was time for a holiday, the first real one we'd had since a package to Turkey in 2008, although admittedly we did spend around a week very early this year driving to a few cities in Northern Europe.  

Although I get  to travel around the world occasionally with work assignments, and even take my wife on some of them, they don't usually allow too much time for sightseeing and just general chilling-out.

It's many years since I'd been to the warmer parts of Europe, and my wife had never been at all.  A timely lull in foreseeable work commitments coincided with the end of the mad August rush on the French Riviera, and so two or three weeks away in September was the plan. 

The initial intention was to just drive around and stop wherever we fancied, generally in the cheaper hotels and B&Bs, but if the weather was fine then we'd fit in a bit of camping instead. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Effective tax avoidance – start the homemade Christmas wine now...

Making your own wine is a great pastime on many levels....

Firstly, it's very cheap and the taxman doesn't get to surreptitiously steal a huge chunk of your hard-earned readies.   How big is the chunk ?  Read on...

Just think of the 'Three for £10' wine offer at ASDA that's been running for years; that's a bottle of wine for £3.33.  Now this wine has been made in Chile, California, Australia, South Africa or wherever.  Grapes have been planted, lovingly tended, harvested and pressed, the liquid collected, filtered and then fermented, cleared, put in a glass bottle, sealed, labelled and despatched half-way round the world and it's still only £3.33. 

However, consider that sum even further.  The UK excise duty payable on any standard 75cl bottle of wine of that strength is £1.90*  – yes, a staggering amount on any bottle of wine but a very high proportion of £3.33.  To add insult to injury, the £3.33 selling price also includes UK VAT (sales tax) at 20%, on the whole amount including the £1.90 duty, i.e. there's a tax upon a tax, and therefore the exchequer has just grabbed a further £0.56. 

So of the £10 you handed over at the ASDA checkout for your three bottles, £7.38 has immediately been snaffled by the government.

(* UK Duty rates from 26 March 2012 on still wine of 5.5% to 15% ABV = £253.39 per 100 litres)

The bottle of wine has therefore gone through all the stages described above, plus being distributed to the supermarkets, for only 87p.  In the supply chain everyone, the makers, shippers, distributors and the supermarkets has made a profit from just that 87p.