Category Archives: Energy

Energy Unit Costs

We’ve just switched energy suppliers at the end of a fixed rate term.  Unit costs are as follows:

 Oct 2015
- Sep 2016
Oct 2016
- Dec 2016
Jan 2017
- date
Day-time electricity 11.71 p/kWh11.90 p/kWh11.48 p/kWh
Night-time electricity 7.57 p/kWh6.86 p/kWh7.87 p/kWh
PV electricity (when available if metered)4.85 - 4.91 p/kWh4.91 p/kWh4.91 p/kWh
Any-time gas3.01 p/kWh2.43 p/kWh2.35 p/kWh
PV electricity (when available if deemed like mine)0.00 p/kWh0.00 p/kWh0.00 p/kWh

In both cases electricity is on so-called ‘green’ plans where the supplier sources electricity to match my consumption from renewable sources such as wind turbines, solar farms, or hydroelectric.

I’ve included my export rates in the table as for some technologies this will make a difference to the cost-effectiveness of that technology.  My electricity company chooses to deem my export so it pays me assuming that 50% of my generated electricity is exported, rather than metering and paying for my actual export.  That results in the cost to me of using my own solar being zero, whereas if export was metered then using my own solar would cost me the export payment.  Thus for me it’s economically attractive to use excess solar to make hot water rather than using gas thus saving the cost of gas but, for someone with metered export, the lost export payment would outweigh the saving in gas.

Since the table rows are ranked by unit price (higher priced fuels are at the top) then another way to look at this is that it’s financially attractive to replace a fuel higher in the table with one lower in the table, but disadvantageous to replace a fuel lower in the table with one above.

Annual Energy costs

I was reading a newspaper article earlier which highlighted a 3 bed semi with annual energy consumption costs of £500.  Our net energy consumption costs for my early ’70s 4 bed detached in 2015/6 was £400.  That includes charging my electric car.

img_0591

The house has:

  • A-rated gas boiler (Dec 2015),
  • A-rated double glazing throughout (prior owner),
  • C-rated hot water cylinder with bottom-entry immersion heater and all accessible hot pipes insulated (Dec 2015),
  • 7 day timer (prior owner) with Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs)  throughout (except hall and 2 towel rails – Dec 2015),
  • Standard cavity fill and 4″ loft insulation (prior owner, now nearer 10″ but Oct 2016 installation outside 2015/6 data window),
  • Almost 100% low energy bulbs (mostly Sep 2015),
  • 4kWp solar panels (Sep 2015) with energy management system (Sep 2015) with remote monitoring (Mar 2016) directing surplus PV to car charger (Apr 2016) and/or hot water cylinder (Dec 2015), and
  • Economy 7 electricity (Oct 2015).

I spent £1,000 on gas and electric in 2015/6 which was partially offset by £600 revenue from my solar PV giving net costs of £400. Given that some of the above were introduced during the year, a full year’s use should reduce consumption further.

 

 

Making best use of energy

If I want to make best use of my solar PV (i.e. use as much of it as possible) then it seems logical to prioritise replacing my most expensive energy purchases. Examination of my bills suggests that my different sources of energy have the following costs:

  1. Day-time electricity: 12.31 p/kWh
  2. Night-time electricity: 8.02 p/kWh
  3. Any-time gas: 2.87 p/kWh
  4. Solar PV (when available): 0.00 p/kWh

In winter when little PV electric is available our normal practice is to shift as much electric load as possible to night time use saving 4.29 p/kWh by use of timers. Washing machine, dishwasher, and electric car charging all get shifted to Economy 7 by use of timers. The washing machine is the oldest and uses a external timer plug while both dishwasher and car have their own inbuilt timers allowing consumption to be delayed.

In summer the same approach can be used to shift these loads to daytime to make use of solar PV although if the weather is dull and cloudy there’s no guarantee that sufficient PV will be available risking consumption of bought daytime electricity.

My Immersun already minimises exported/surplus PV by running the immersion heater to mop up surplus electricity, although as gas is cheap the savings are smaller than might be achieved by avoiding a similar amount of night-time electricity consumption. In winter we minimise gas use for water heating, while still providing a gas safety net by displacing in both time and temperature. The Immersun naturally heats water in daylight hours only and generates hot water at 60C (not adjustable) as defined by the immersion heater thermostat. The gas is set to complement this being set by timer not to overlap Immersun hours and is set to 50C by the cylinder thermostat. The water temperature difference is not noticeable in practice especially as the showers are thermostatically regulated.

Car charging 1The device that consumes most electric power is undoubtedly my electric car. Its usable battery capacity is about 10.5 kWh and, with charging efficiencies, it can take up to 12 kW of mains electricity to charge (less in summer). The appeal of charging this on solar PV is high, although the cost of doing this if it inadvertently draws day-time electricity is also high (but still much cheaper than petrol or Diesel). It occurred to me that it would be good to use spare channels on the Immersun to control car charging as my largest consumer of my most expensive fuel. It has three channels – two variable power and one on/off – although it can be configured to produce three variable outputs using the on/off to switch between devices.

It seems to me that there are three alternatives for control:

  1. Proportional control.
  2. Stepped control.
  3. On/Off control.

Proportional control would be the most capable. The Immersun has the capability to provide proportional control to multiple resistive loads, and the Mode 3 communications standard to which virtually all electric cars adhere also provides for the charging equipment sending a proportional signal to the car via PWM, so there’s scope for a proportional system. However it seemed that the time to develop this was beyond what I have available, and in practice although the car would receive a proportional control signal it would normally respond in a stepped manner so there’s little to be gained by investing my time to develop a fully proportionate system..

Stepped control is easier to achieve. As it happens my car model is more steppy than some as I believe that it switches between 6, 10 or 15 Amps consumption only. 15 Amps is very close to the full 4 kW output of my panels and, given that there are always other loads in the house, then I don’t think it would ever use this setting, which leaves me with switching between 0, 6 and 10 Amps. Unfortunately of course you can’t switch between 3 states with an on/off signal that only has 2 states, so I’d still need to decode an analogue Immersun output or invest in a second Immersun to get another on/off output but I deemed the latter cost-prohibitive. Generating a variable current signal to the vehicle would also require some logic to reduce the pulse width on the PWM signal on demand – not impossible but still requiring some time to create.

That leaves me with on/off control at a fixed current. This is readily achieved from the Immersun which has a relay output that can be configured to operate when a certain solar power is available (such as 1.5 kW to drive a 6 Amp charger). I decided not simply to turn the whole charger on or off by switching the power as this would cause the mains contactors in the charger and the HV DC contactors in the vehicle to drop out under load which is bad for longevity. Instead I’ll interrupt a low voltage control signal within the charger to trigger stop and restart in a more controlled manner – effectively car and charging equipment will see the signal as the user wishing to disconnect the cable as you might if you wished to drive before charging was complete.

Finally I considered how to connect the Immersun to the charging equipment. Unfortunately the Immersun is in the airing cupboard upstairs (where it drivers the immersion heater) and the garage where the car charges is a separate building alongside the opposite side of house. Neither a second Immersun or a physical cable looked like an attractive prospect on cost grounds so I decided on radio control using around £20 of home automation parts and a total investment of around £40. More on this solution over the next few weeks.

Solar panels can generate significant amounts of electricity for example on March 25th our 4kW panels generated 22.4 kWh over the course of the day as shown.
ImmerSUN 25-03-2016
This generation typically substantially exceeds the load being drawn by the house leading to export of electricity to the grid – 12.3 kWh in this example or more than half the generated energy.

Moving loads such as the washing machine or dishwasher from night to day can help use this electricity, but done to excess risks increasing day time electricity import if changing cloud cover or other factors reduces generated power. The varying power demand from such devices is also unlikely to coincide the the surplus power available leaving some unused surplus. I was thus pleased to come across the ImmerSUN system.
ImmerSUN
The ImmerSUN is a device which diverts surplus power to a range of possible consumers such as an immersion heater. It has a current sensor that measures any surplus power being exported and then diverts a similar amount of power into the immersion heater. Normally of course an immersion heater is either on or off, but the ImmerSUN provides proportionate control between 0 and 100%. It can control several devices diverting power to a lower priority device once, for example, a higher priority immersion heater has raised the water temperature to the set point and power for that purpose is no longer required. In the top illustration the blue bars show 4.7kWh being diverted into water heating (and thus reducing my gas bill) that otherwise would have been lost to export.

For further details see ImmerSUN website .

At the time of writing if you order online quoting Referral Code 206505 you will receive £25 in department store discount vouchers or a free system upgrade to remote monitoring.

End of 2012 Gas Analysis

Well like many UK homes our central heating and hot water is fuelled by natural gas. We also use natural gas for cooking on the stove top (the oven is however electric) and we have a gas fire in the living room, but these latter two uses are much less significant.
I’d lived here for 10 years before I started actively trying to reduce my energy consumption. During those 10 years I used an average of 562 units of gas annually.
Since then I’ve reduced my consumption by two routes, firstly to reduce heat loss so that less energy for heating was required, and secondly by replacing gas with renewable sources. It’s however also the case that my circumstances have not been constant during that time so, for example, when I started this I lived alone then 4 years or so ago I married and my wife joined me here; and now my wife is at home during the day with our baby daughter much of the time. Consequently the demand for hot water for washing and heating has increased.
The steps taken to reduce gas consumption include:

  • Having insulation installed in the cavities of the house walls. Houses here conventionally have a double skin of brick or block and, when this house was built, the cavity between the inner and outer layers was usually left as an air gap. We’ve had that gap filled with insulation as you would find in newer homes.
  • Increasing the thickness of insulation in the loft.
  • Replacing the old wooden windows with new PVC ones with higher “A” grade insulation – most easily seen by the larger air gap in the sealed units.
  • Installing solar water heating panels on the roof in conjunction with a larger hot water tank. In the summer these provide almost all our hot water (no heating is required), although at olther times of the heat they don’t provide enough heat alone for hot water they can help to pre-heat the cold water leaving the gas less work to do to achieve a usuable temperature.

We didn’t do this all at once, but if I compare the last 2 years to the original 10 year baseline then we’ve reduced average annual gas consumption by 23%. I think that the reduction would have been higher had our circumstances between constant.