Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 17 October 2011

Blue Sky Thinking - Part One

I have a view is that most major technology evolutions, or even revolutions, are initially a little ugly in hindsight, functionally over ambitious and destined to be hi-jacked by others in the same field who don't have the same emotional investment.  I think we also see a progressive merging of technologies over time and eventually get to a state where the end product is more than the sum  of its parts.
With that thought in mind I'm going to discuss some of the daft ideas I have for a brave new future - I'm expecting some rolled eyes and critical comments, bring them on!

For today, I'm going to look at the issue of power - electrical power.  We all know that the country is heading for an energy crunch and we've seen how vulnerable we are due our dependancy on gas from abroad.  Now there's been a lot of development in roof mounted solar panels in recent years and a scheme, about to be canned next April by the Government, has encouraged people to have solar panels fitted to their house roofs.  The scheme allows power generated in this way to be used by the household with the panels, with anything not used being sold back to the national grid at four times the cost of buying units.  The householder pays for the purchase and installation.  Some commentators say the payback period is twenty-five years, others claim  just four.  The crux of the issue to me is two-fold, regardless of the payback period.  First, the scheme only works because of an unrealistic subsidy (which is going to cease soon) and second, the finished panels are aesthetically awful.

Now my view is that the core idea has a lot of merit - look at any street in your city, town or village and think about how many square metres of roofing there is.  The current scheme of plonking a few ugly panels almost at random is only scratching at the surface of the potential (if the electricians don't mind the pun).  Here's my view on how the scheme should run:

First, there should be development of tiling materials that are individual solar panels but mimic the look, feel and weatherproofing capabilities of current (sorry, electricians) ceramic tiles.  I can foresee ceramic tiles manufactured using traditional methods being treated post manufacture in a suitable voltaic material, preferably one that looks natural from the ground.  In time, I would expect the tiles to be manufactured with the voltaic capabilities in one manufacturing step.

An obvious objection to be raised here is that the average electrician probably doesn't have the life disregarding temperament of the average roofer; the average roofer probably shouldn't be let anywhere near an electrical generating device with the potential to burn down a house if not installed and maintained correctly.  This implies a re-skilling process is needed, especially as I would consider such an installation would need certifying on install and on periodic maintenance.

I also don't think the roof should be installed by the householder, nor paid for by them.  In my blue sky world the initial target for the roofing material would be new build houses, with the roof installation paid for, and owned by, the energy companies.  The owners of the houses would own and be responsible for everything up to and including the soffits, but the roof would never belong to them.  Their responsibilty would be limited to not doing anything that could compromise the roofing and ensuring appropriate access for maintenance.

The benefit for the householder for relinquishing the ownership of the roof is that any power generated would be allocated to their house before anything else.  Any surplus would belong to the energy company owning the roof.  Additionally, any power drawn in excess of the instantaneous generation would be paid for at the normal rates.  Which means the houses should be self sufficient in energy terms during the day, even in the winter, but would incur energy costs out of daylight hours.  At least that's a starting point.  As we're discussing new build at this point they would be designed to optimise the electricity generated to minimise their need to buy power back.

Over time there could be a retrospective programme to address the existing housing stock.  Couple this with energy storage schemes, the amount of energy needed to be generated in the long term by power stations could be a fraction of the present amount.

In the next blue sky blog, I'll be moving inside the house, briefly.

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