Monday, 30 December 2013

Annual Spending Review - 2013

At the start of 2013, I decided to categorise my spending throughout this year, so I could see exactly where all the money goes.  

This included all payments made directly from the bank or on debit cards, those made on the credit cards (always paid off in full every month) and also any cash payments, as far as was possible.  Cash payments were particularly difficult to track since they tended to be rather small and easily forgettable - at the end of each month, I could never fully reconcile the cash left in my wallet against the ATM withdrawals I'd made !

So, with today being the penultimate day of the year, and I'm confident that I won't spend any more money in 2013, here's a breakdown by percentage of my total annual expenditure.  Click on the chart for a larger image.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Monitoring Electrical Energy Use / Consumption in the Home....

With electricity prices becoming increasingly expensive, and likely to continue to rise way above inflation, we recently concluded a seven-week long experiment to monitor the energy consumption of most of the electrical appliances in our home.    

The plan was to identify those energy consumers for which there may be scope for a saving, by either changing their pattern of usage or replacing older appliances with more modern and efficient units.  

However, replacing any items would only make economic sense if their total capital costs could be recouped from the predicted savings in their currently-measured operating costs within a period of say five years maximum, or if they should become faulty or breakdown in the future.  We don't intend to discard otherwise serviceable appliances simply because they may not be quite as efficient as the very latest designs on the market.

The five years is actually slightly longer than the period in which I'd normally expect a payback against any such renewal purchase - three years would be nearer the mark.  However, with energy price inflation over the past five years running at around say 8% compared to more 'general' inflation at around 4%, i.e. twice the rate (and no signs of this trend ever coming to an end - see my previous post), then every £1 worth of electricity energy today will actually cost £1.48 in five years time, whereas that unit £1 cost of appliances today will be just £1.22 at the end of the same period.  

To put it another way, cash in the bank in today's money to be spent on future appliances would have been devalued by 18% but cash kept aside for future energy bills will devalue by a whopping 32% after five years.   Therefore, it may make economic sense to bring forward certain renewal purchases because the time they will spend consuming less energy in the future will produce exponentially greater annual savings.

Anyway, back to the testing.  We already had a couple of simple plug-in energy monitors that we'd bought for our micro-generation experiments, and we first established there would be three categories of consumer in the house to be monitored during the experiment :-

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Pan fried et al...

We've been watching Masterchef for the last few weeks, and unfortunately it's scheduled to go on for quite a while longer, probably right up to Christmas.  

But, to be fair, the wife loves it and it's something on UK TV which she can fully understand, because her English isn't quite up to the level of being able to appreciate University Challenge or even the latest dramas.

However, what a pretentious bunch of tossers there are in the Masterchef programmes, in the presenters, 'expert chefs', critics and even the contestants themselves.

My own 'favourite' restaurant epithet is 'pan-fried', among a dozen or so others in a similar vein.  FFS, have you ever tried to fry food in anything but some kind of pan - how about holding boiling oil between your fingers for ten minutes ?

Like I said, pretentious tossers, the lot of them..

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

How places can define people....

I hadn't previously realised how much the place in which you live can so significantly alter your habits and redefine your lifestyle.

Perhaps the stronger connection with our home is partly due to the time we spent gutting and refurbishing it before we moved in, and also the recent major project to develop the extended gardens, and so we feel that we know the building and gardens intimately....

And although I've always had an interest in making, mending, recycling and growing etc, it wasn't until we moved to our current home that such opportunities actually became possible on a scale which can impact on our way of life.  I use the word 'recycling' here in a broader engineering sense, i.e. the re-use of old materials and items that are unwanted or are no longer serviceable for their original function, but which can be modified to serve a different requirement.

As I've said before, we now live in a semi-rural location on the edge of farmland, with only a few near neighbours.  It's generally remote and quiet, and we can basically do whatever we want without fear of disturbing anyone else, hence the experiments with wind turbines, solar panels and perhaps a future combined heat & power (CHP) plant.  And now we have our additional garden land, we've extra space to indulge further such fancies.

Demand for the paid consultancy services I provide has been slightly reduced over the last couple of years due to severely depressed conditions in one particular industry sector in which I have expertise - this had provided a good proportion of my income for the last ten years or so.  It might take quite some time for this sector to recover, and for major spending to resume on capital investment projects, and so now seems an ideal time to get into the workshop and gardens. 

At our previous house within a typical residential street in a mid-sized market town, I would have been itching to find 40-odd hours or so of paid work each week to keep me occupied, otherwise it would have seemed that time was simply wasting away.

However, here in our current place, I could almost find enough things to do around the house and gardens to keep me busy full-time, and so an average of 20 hours of paid consultancy work per week was the reduced target for this year.  

This is an average figure though, and I always take on any work opportunities that are on offer - for the last couple of months, I've actually been working well over sixty hours per week, but at this time of year I don't mind at all, especially when these particular current projects are so interesting and intellectually challenging.

For the rest of the time when things are slack on the work front, there are things in the house and garden to build, repair, prepare, plant and tend etc, and even when it's too cold, wet or dark outside then there's many of my projects that can be continued within the comfort of the house or workshop.   Not only some of the physical construction activities, but also doing the initial basic designs, drawings and calculations can leave you wondering where the time has gone....

I'm also trying to set aside the last Wednesday or Thursday of each month for a regular and more detailed review of our pension and ISA investments, and for research into future opportunities....

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Paper logs & briquettes - Part 2

We finally bit the bullet and ordered one of those cross-handled briquette machines from the internet.  Despite my whinge last year about the upfront cost and relatively poor returns compared to coal (see my previous post) it seemed a much quicker and simpler way of making free paper bricks than the rather tiresome process of using our home-made versions.

Incidentally, this year we paid £6.30 for each 25 kg bag of run-of-the mill house coal, 50p (and 8%) more expensive than last year...

We actually bought a top-of-the-range briquetting press, for £20 delivered, although there were lighter-duty versions available on eBay for around a tenner.  This one seems to be of more robust construction and even has round plastic handles - I wouldn't want to be putting my full body weight on the thin steel sections of the cheaper versions, at least without very thick gloves to protect my hands..

After a full day-long shredding and tearing campaign, we let the mash soak for around three days in a big plastic container.  A whole year's worth of eBay invoices and other old bills, plus a couple of months of free newspapers.  There were even a few thick glossy catalogues in the mix, from Tesco and Argos et al, around half-an-hour each to tear them up by hand into usable paper strips.

the briquette press and the container with the mash....

Monday, 4 November 2013

Removal of the Wind Turbine....

A couple of months ago, I noticed the wind turbine had stopped producing electrical energy and so I took it down and had a good look at it.

It turned out to be a relatively simple fix, just to replace a drive key that had sheared on the gearing, but in the end I decided not to repair and re-erect it. 

So now it's languishing in pieces in the shed and workshop, the reason being it's simply not cost-effective for it to continue to operate - see my previous post.

I haven't totally given up on domestic wind energy though - I'd still like to design and construct another and larger experimental version of perhaps a combined Savonius / Darius vertical axis machine.

Watch this space for future developments....

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Who let the slugs out....

Usually, at this time of year, we'd be wading ankle-deep through slugs in our garden.  It's damp yet still relatively warm, conditions in which they have thrived in previous years.

However, this year there are hardly any slugs or snails to be seen at all.

I know almost nothing about the procreation of slugs, but I can only assume that they made their babies in March in the expectation that warmer weather was on the way, but the very cold April killed them all off.

Not that I'm complaining.  We may have lost some of our vegetable crops to many other factors this year, but none of them were attacked by slugs, usually one of the most serious pests in our garden.  

Roll on another cool April next year...

Monday, 28 October 2013

Restoring an old Die-cast Lantern....

My wife's away at the moment, visiting relatives and friends in her native country.   One of the list of '...orders...' she left behind was for me to tidy-up my workshop.  

She's been away for over three weeks but is due back very soon, and so I thought it best to tackle this particular item on the list....

As part of the clear out, I identified several non-electrical bits and pieces which could safely be stored in one of the unheated sheds in the garden.  So I hauled these items down the garden path, but when I was stashing them in the smaller shed I came across the old die-cast aluminium lantern that used to hang beside our front door.   

It was in a very sorry state, but despite the wife's objections I'd hung on to it with a view to one day perhaps cleaning it up and putting it back into service - when we bought the house, it was one of the first items to be ripped out during the refurbishment works.

So I dug it out and had a closer look at it.   With the nights closing in and the wife due to return to our local airport on an evening flight, I thought the illuminated lantern might be a pleasant 'welcome home' symbol after I'd picked her up from the airport, and therefore now would be the right time for a restoration.

After a little initial scraping and wire brushing....

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Garden Review 2013 - Fruit & Veg...

With September now in full swing and the autumnal equinox fast approaching, it's a chance to review our successes and failures during the fruit and vegetable growing season....


Tomatoes - in early March, we'd started these off from seeds in 3" pots on the kitchen windowsill.   This meant they missed all of the effects of the very cold April, and the weather had recovered to more seasonal norms before they were planted out in the new greenhouse.  We've had literally hundreds of tomatoes from our 14 plants, and there's more still to come.  With the amount of headroom we have in this greenhouse, there's fruit on eight or nine trusses on each plant.

tomato plants in August...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Growing Raspberries & Cranberries from Seed...

For some time, we'd been toying with the idea of growing soft fruit bushes from seeds – there's plenty of space on the greenhouse shelves for starting them off.   Growing fruit from seed is a fraction of the price of buying rootstocks, even if they're bare-rooted.  The major downside is that it may take much longer to get the plants established from seed.

It was actually more difficult to find seeds than established plants, although I had managed to find one eBay supplier based in Lithuania selling seeds for raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and blackcurrants, among others.  I suppose an even cheaper alternative may have been to buy some fresh fruit from the market and then prepare our own seeds from a few of them.

However, we ordered some raspberry and cranberry seeds for around £1 per packet, and they arrived at the beginning of June.  

Looking at the instructions provided for each type of fruit seed, they were both very similar.  To cool the seeds for at least a month, and preferably longer, presumably to fool them into thinking it's darkest winter from which they will then awaken and burst into life when the temperature is returned to normal.  This process is called 'stratification' by the horticulturists.

Rescuing Blackcurrant Canes....

In the local Poundshop earlier in the summer, they were selling some small blackcurrant plants at 2 for £1, half the usual price because they were bare-root stock and it was already late May, well past the time when they should have been planted.  They were in a sorry state - all had some sort of new forced growth although it was very pale in colour due to the absence of light where they'd been stored.   They were labelled as Ribes Negrum, so they're a true blackcurrant, and the variety is 'Ojebyn' which seems to be a popular European variety from an internet search.

Anyway, we bought ten of them for £5, got them home and unwrapped the roots which at least were still moist from the polythene wrappings.   We stood them in a bowl of water and then pruned them back to just above where we could see new buds.  On one or two, the new pale growth was only an inch or two long, so we left these on thinking that they were short enough to fully recover.

after pruning, soaking in a bowl of water

Friday, 23 August 2013

When less means more....why electricity prices will rise and rise....

Electricity prices are going up – that much you already know from your bills.  You'd think the only option is to use less of the stuff....

Well, get used to the idea - they're going to continue to go up, and the less electricity everyone uses then the higher the prices are going to be.

Why is this ? 

Some commentators blame energy price rises on the lack of new oil and gas reserves, the expense of their extraction, or political instability in the major producing regions.

However, the real reason is much simpler.  Do you really think that the shareholders of these energy companies are going to suffer simply because you use less of their product, particularly when they feel they're forced to operate in a grossly distorted market ?

In a way, of course, they have a valid point... 

Electricity cannot effectively be stored in large quantities and therefore energy on demand is provided by standby and swing capacity units, namely thermal power stations - those things that burn fossil fuels to keep the lights on come what may.

Forget the wind farms, when the wind doesn't blow the standby stations have to kick into action and make up the entire shortfall between demand and supply. 

The trouble is, of course, that all of the fixed costs associated with maintaining and operating a 'big block' asset must still be met even if it's producing nothing at all for periods.

There's debt to be serviced, sustaining capital to keep the asset up to scratch, spare parts for equipment, maintenance costs and plant operators sitting around doing nothing at all but making themselves available 24 hours per day for when the big block needs to kick into action.   

And all this against a backdrop of increasingly stringent and costly environmental, employment and health & safety legislation with which it's necessary for them to comply.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Installing a new window - and without Acrow Supports...

Since the time we were developing our new garden space, in which we opened up the area immediately to the west of the house that was previously occupied by the old metal shed and the polycarbonate greenhouse, we'd also been thinking about putting a new window in the home office. 

This building was previously an attached garage, but was converted to living space by the last occupiers.  Now, just less than half of this former garage space is the office and the remainder is my workshop with the machine tools etc.

I had a vision of sitting at my desk and working while looking out onto our new garden and the open views beyond, over the fields of the adjacent farm.  Well, today that vision became a reality...

To start with, I'd bought a complete 1,200 x 1,200 mm (nominal) uPVC double-glazed window unit in an eBay auction for the princely sum of £67.  This came off the gable end of a relatively new-built house when the owners were constructing an extension, so it's a modern unit and contains quite efficient glazing panels.   

I then spent several days in preparing layouts and calculations in determining the best way of constructing and installing a lintel over the large aperture to be created.

By measuring both the internal and external room dimensions, we established that the wall in question was around 145 mm thick in total.   I reckoned this was around 100 mm in the single-course brickwork and the rest in insulation, battens and plasterboard finishes etc.  I marked the wall externally with chalk to get a better feel for the size and final installation position. However, this initial mark-out was quickly washed away in a heavy rainstorm !

the new window and the initial marking out....

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Investing update....

It's a slack day on the work front today, and so here's a bit of an update on the investment 'strategy'.

Following on from my post in February, it's been a decent enough ride for the shares and funds that I held onto after my selling spree at the turn of the year.

As I write, I'm still sitting on around 60% cash in both the ISA and the SIPP pots, having resisted the temptation to jump back in at valuation levels I thought to be too high.  

The steady rise that marked the first half of the year wasn't one with too many opportunities for me, since the games I tend to play depend on much more market volatility.  OK, so I may have lost something to inflation by not being fully invested, but I'm more comfortable with that than simply taking hopeful punts in a rising market, and all the while I'm keeping my powder dry for any chances that come along in the future.  

Monday, 12 August 2013

Why's that pink duck only got one leg ?

What's happened to television advertising these days ?

Maybe it's just me, but ads seemed much more witty and sophisticated in the eighties and nineties than they are now.

I don't watch much television at all these days but whenever I do the frequency of advert breaks, and both the repetition and subject matters of the ads, can be really off-putting.

To continue the rant, most modern cinema features and television programmes are filmed and cut into endless numbers of takes of just a few seconds each - watch a modern music video and the number of screen changes and jumps between camera angles makes your head spin. 

The producers and directors seem to think that their target audience has the attention span of a goldfish, and that the punters won't watch the screen for more than two seconds at a time if they're not constantly bombarded with fresh images.

Perhaps they're right...

Friday, 19 July 2013

Converting a 2.3 kW Generator Alternator to Belt Drive.....

As part of my mini CHP project - more on that in a future post when it's a little further advanced - I bought an old petrol-driven generator set on eBay for £51.

It was only the alternator and panel etc I really wanted, but the old genset had a few other things I could use, such as the frame and fuel tank.  Everything seemed to be working fine before I started taking it apart.

However, when I stripped the generator off the engine, I discovered that there's no front bearing assembly within the generator.  In its original configuration, it plugged directly onto the engine shaft and therefore simply used the crank main bearings for its front support.

the re-assembled 4.5 hp petrol engine after stripping off the genny - the
engine's going up for sale on eBay shortly

the generator....

Monday, 17 June 2013

Mole encounter....

My wife called to me from the garden earlier today - from the kitchen window, she'd seen a magpie pecking at the grass out the back.  Nothing unusual about that, but it had suddenly jumped back and then turned and flown away, so she'd been out to investigate.

When I went outside, I could see the ground heaving slightly in the middle of our back lawn, so I grabbed the camera and a stool and sat close to it.  After around five minutes, the earth broke but the mole didn't seem to emerge.

the very small molehill

Friday, 14 June 2013

Beating inflation at a local level...

How much do macro-economic statistics actually matter to you ?

Take, for instance, the oft-quoted official rates of inflation.  They're maybe important if you've pension income or other similar indexed returns dependent upon them, but are these rates of price increase in any way rooted in the reality of your own particular existence ?

At the time of writing, the official rate of UK inflation is around 3.0%.  However, most of the money we spend on a regular basis goes on food items, for which the annual inflation rate on the items we buy is always many times higher than any 'official' rate.  We can see this just by pushing a supermarket trolley around – we don't need bodies of self-professed 'economists' to tell us.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

DIY landscaping of the extended garden....

The latest major project has been to clean up the garden, particularly the extension to the land we bought last November.   We decided to have a big push over the last few weeks to get this landscaping work finished quite quickly, so afterwards we can just relax and enjoy the garden for the rest of the summer (or start further projects, which is more likely...).

at the start of the works - digger levelling and clearing....
work in progress at the south end

Although I titled this post 'DIY', there was a lot of digging works to be done and I'm not getting any younger, so there was just a little too much spadework initially.   Therefore, we hired a guy with a mini-digger to first clear the south end - he also removed the five tree stumps that we'd cut down to ground level last year.  When he'd finished at this end, we lifted the old metal shed off its flagstone base and relocated the flags next to the other shed at the south, and then re-erected the shed in its new position.  This opened up the whole garden back to the house wall.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Planting Grapevines in the Greenhouse...

A month or so ago we bought two young grapevines from our local nursery.  They were quite expensive at £15 each, but hopefully we'll be able to harvest fruit from them for many years to come.

One vine is a Chardonnay, which needs no introduction, and the other a Perlan which apparently is another name for the Chasselas variety, very commonly grown throughout Europe.

We decided to use the 'rod' method of training, allowing just a single branch to grow the full length of the greenhouse.

The plants already had some fresh growth when we bought them, and we selected a good shoot on each and then snipped off all the other greenery (note that it's not advisable to cut any old wood at all during the growing season, since the plants have a tendency to 'bleed').  At this stage, we just left the plants in their pots standing inside the greenhouse.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Solar Panel Performance - one year on

We now have one full year's worth of operational data from our five-panel experimental array, rated at 540 Watt-peak (Wp) in total.

So, without further ado, here's the cumulative AC energy graph for the array from 04-May-12 to 03-May-13.  Click on the figures to make them larger and easier to read ...

and here's the output on a month-by month basis.

and on a 'unitised' basis, i.e. per installed Watt-peak of capacity.

Our forecast in my post from 04-Nov-12, on the economics of the array, predicted an annual output of 254 kWhr of usable AC electrical energy, but we actually only achieved 241 kWhr in the period. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Homemade Axial Flux Generator - Part 2 - The Coils

Following on from our earlier post, quite a while back now, I managed to get around to constructing a stator coil a month or so ago.   This particular project has had a very low priority due to work commitments and the many other projects I'm also on with, especially in the garden.

Firstly, I made a mould to cast the coils from an old piece of timber, using the CNC machine to generate the internal disc profile.  Using the CNC wasn't strictly necessary, a simpler but equally effective mould could have made up from plastic strips or similar.

on the CNC machine....

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Greenhouse Irrigation / Watering System.....

Apologies if the title makes this sound rather more than grand than it actually is – it's just a very simple piping system to capture the rainwater falling on the roof and then re-direct it inside the greenhouse.

I started with three 3 metre lengths of 20 mm plastic conduit that I'd bought a year ago for the solar panel installation, before I discovered that I couldn't fit two pairs of cables inside each pipe and therefore ending up buying 25 mm instead for that application.  

Two lengths of the conduit I had were white and one black.  I had a few fittings already to hand, but topped up the shortfall with a few more from eBay.   The inspection covers on the PVC elbows and tee were sealed up using 'Evostik' Pipe Weld adhesive, and then pressure tested by holding my hand over the open end(s) and blowing into the other.

The long lengths of irrigation pipe were drilled every 150 mm or so – I started with 3 mm holes near the feed end and increased to 4 mm and then 5 mm as I progressed further along the pipes, the idea being to encourage water flow along the whole length of each pipe.  The open ends are temporarily sealed with blu-tack until I get around to making some proper plugs.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Building a greenhouse.....

This unplanned major project all started because I was looking for glass panels to build a simple cold frame to start-off vegetable plants under glass.  

However, one listing on eBay was for a shower panel (singular), but it was very poorly listed and described.  After a couple of emails to the seller I established that there were actually 18 panels for sale in the lot, all of the same height but in batches of three different widths, and all of them brand new !

I put in a bid and was lucky enough to get all the panels for the starting price of £20.  It meant a 160 mile round trip to collect them, but we hooked-up the trailer and set off.  When we saw the panels, they were very much more substantial than I'd initially thought – all 6 mm toughened glass within a polished aluminium frame.  They must have weighed around 400 kg or so, but with half in the trailer and half in the back of the car, we got them home OK.

glass panels in the foreground....

So, after measuring up, we decided we could build a new 12'x6' greenhouse using fourteen of them.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Preferences and Prejudices - a personal trading strategy....

If what follows could ever be described as a 'strategy'....

Financial Advice ?
Note that I'm not a financial adviser and nor would I recommend that you shell out your hard-earned readies in seeking so-called 'professional' investment advice.  Do your own research.

(There's a proviso to this, however, in that I wouldn't be averse to asking my accountant for information on how a particular financial instrument would be treated for tax purposes.   Trading accounts, ISAs and SIPPs etc are simple enough vehicles for most people to readily understand their tax treatment, but there are many things out there that aren't – the UK tax code runs to several thousand pages, and like most tax 'rules' they are not designed to be definitive but are deliberately left open to interpretation....generally though, if you can't fully understand an 'opportunity' yourself, without taking external advice, then it may be more prudent not to pursue it at all.)

Having established and understood what are the particular tax advantages or otherwise of the investment type or wrapper in which they're held, there's absolutely no-one out there who is qualified to advise you in which particular industry sectors, shares, funds, bonds, trackers, commodities etc you should invest.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Domestic Solar versus Domestic Wind ? Solar wins, every time....

I still see people on eBay bidding hundreds of pounds for 300W domestic wind turbines.  Some of the sales sites use terms such as ' energy...' and ' money...'. but these claims simply don't stack up....

Given that you can buy 170W solar panels on eBay for around £80 or so each, let's do a very simple comparison based on real data from my own experimental installations of both solar and wind (see my previous posts for more details on each).

Since 300W is a common-enough domestic turbine rating (based on a 1.4 m blade sweep), we'll do the numbers based on 300W. 

Let's assume that whatever installation materials / batteries / controllers / inverters / instrumentation / cabling etc you'd need for one system would cost exactly the same as for the other.

Let's also assume that you've bought your 300W turbine on eBay for £160, the same price as two 170W panels.  To make it even simpler, we'll also de-rate these solar panels to a combined 300W watt-peak output.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Planting the bare-root hedging....

After a rapid thaw, in just a couple days, all the snow that had been hanging around for a few weeks disappeared and so we took the opportunity of the break in the weather to get our new hedge planted.

just a couple of days earlier....

We initially measured out the spacing with a marked length of timber (we've planted a double row at around 5 plants per metre), and then tried to sink the spade fully into the ground at each individual plant location.  Around 75% of them were fine, which meant we would just need to sink the spade to its full depth, wiggle it back and forth several times to make a rectangular slot, and then ease the roots of the plants down into position before closing back the soil using the heel of a welly.

an easy stretch, just used the spade to open up a slot.....

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

AIM Stocks – what to watch out for....

My own professional expertise covers one particular area of minerals and metals processing.  Note, however, that I'm not a financial adviser.... do your own research.
The Alternative Investment Market (AIM) is a UK market for shares in smaller, more risky companies.

You've spotted a start-up company that's reporting great things – they've recently floated on AIM to raise £100m and the financial press is full of its potential – and so you've also bought into the marketing spiel and you now own a fraction of this company – they either have a new production process that's going to revolutionise an industry sector or else they've specific oil, gas or mineral rights to a particular piece of land or sea and therefore everything looks rosy, yes ?  

Wrong ! 

Why ?  Read on....

So, this fantastic new company has, say, the oil or mineral rights to a particular piece of land or sea.  What does this mean ?

Well, it means exactly what it says.  The company has probably agreed to acquire the sole and exclusive rights to extract whatever mineral they specified from under this piece of land or sea, but usually only for a finite length of time to commence, i.e. some government or other has given them maybe five years to build a full-scale production operation, or at the very least to commence 'meaningful works' – if your company fails to meet this deadline, then this (very expensive) option lapses and is up for grabs again and anyone else can then bid for the future rights.

So, your AIM company with a market capitalisation of £100 million wants to develop, say, a mineral minesite. 

Dead easy, yes ? 

Wrong again !

Have you any idea of the sort of financial and regulatory frameworks with which it's required to comply, even in so-called third-world countries ? 

Firstly, there's the initial cost of acquiring the option, let's say a lowly £20m, then they may need to confirm that the resource is exactly as rich as it's claimed to be, maybe £2m in further testing etc, then there's a series of feasibility studies required, eventually up to a level that would be acceptable to future equity partners or lenders.  Let's say £1m in total as a ball-park figure.  Then there's an Environmental, Social and Impact Assessment study (ESIA) into the proposed development, let's say £500k and which may well be on the low side.  Then there's survey & planning fees, consultation with local residents, possible relocations, public relations etc, let's say another £1m just for starters, if you're very lucky.  

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Homemade Axial Flux Generator - Part 1 - The Mechanics....

Late last year, I'd thought I'd have a go at building an experimental generator which could be used with a wind turbine, either a new-build Savonius vertical-axis type or else utilising my spare set of home-made blades for our existing horizontal-axis machine.     

I'm starting small, at only around 150 mm (6") overall rotor diameter but I've a couple of worn front brake discs lying around in the workshop from my old MGF (long gone now....) which could possibly be used for a larger version in the future.

After first looking around at what others have done on YouTube etc, I came up with a slightly different design to most of the others and then set to work.    At this stage it's intended to be a 3-phase alternator and so with 12 magnet poles we'll need 9 coils cutting the flux during rotation.  This will give the required 120 degrees of phase separation during operation - there's several animations available on the web which show moving graphs of the voltages induced in a 3-phase alternator.

The generator coils will be static, i.e. will form the 'stator', and the magnets are fixed to steel plates and rotate, i.e. the 'rotor'.  The assembled rotor comprises two parts, the outer and inner.  The rotor shaft rotates in ball-bearings in the housing, to which the stator will be fixed in position.

I bought a couple of profiled steel plates from eBay, for the rotor discs.   I already had several pieces of aluminium round and square bar in the workshop from which to machine the bearing housings and shafts etc.

bearing housing, temporary central bolt,
rear bearing, rear stub shaft and bearing spacer

There are two bearings fitted in the front of the housing, so the generator shaft can rotate independently, and a third at the rear which will support the direct connection of a turbine blade set via a stub shaft.   The entire blade hub / generator assembly could then be retained by a single M10 central bolt - I've just used a length of studding for the moment, turned down to 8 mm diameter at the rear end so I can fit into the cordless drill chuck for testing.

Friday, 18 January 2013

There's only one way to remove a tree stump....

With apologies to Jasper Carrot and his old '...there's only one way to kill a mole..' comedy routine....

We've five tree stumps on our new piece of land (all conifers) that are quite large and in a difficult spot for removal by digging, and I know from experience it's also back-breaking work exposing the stumps down to a level where the roots can be cut.  Hiring a stump grinder for a weekend also seems a very expensive option.

In anticipation of acquiring the land, we'd cut the trees down to just above ground level around 9 months ago (they'd already been cut to below head-height by someone else in the past) and then we killed them off using Bayer's chemical tree stump killer (glyophosate), which seems to have done the trick since there's been no new growth and the bark on the stumps has already started to soften and can be pulled off easily by hand.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Land acquired.....

It's been quite a while since I last posted, what with work commitments and Christmas etc, but some sort of celebrations are in order !   

Our purchase of additional land adjacent to our house went through in November of last year.  It's a strip of 5 metres width and around 35 metres in length.   We had first expressed an interest in buying this land back in February 2011, and so the whole process took around 20 months to complete....

We won't frighten you with the costs, but adding legal, survey and planning fees it came to an awful lot of money for a simple extension to the gardens.

Anyway, we've now got the land and are very pleased with it.  The neighbouring farmers also bought the remainder of the available land for sale, as additional grazing for their livestock.

So we've already taken down the existing fences and hedges, and hired a mini-digger and operator for a day to clear out one particular area which must have been used as a dumping ground for hedge and grass trimmings for the last forty years or so.

the northern end, before clearance.....

and after....

Some of our old hedge trunks were very substantial and so we've added to our stockpile of logs for the fire.   They need to season for about a year first though, to dry them out properly, so they'll be good for next winter.  The rest of the tree and hedge cuttings went on several bonfires.