Saturday, August 30, 2008

FT headlines this week

Here are a few headlines that caught my eye this week:

Spectris lifted by growing demand for efficiency

Instrument and manufacturing controls maker doing well with wide range of products used in increasing energy efficiency. eg. engine testing equipment used in developing lighter, more fuel-efficient cars. CEO says "rising fuel and raw material prices had imporved demand for products that could help manufacturers reduce waste and control costs". "Efficiency of manufacturing has become a hot topic".

Wealthy Indians let trains take the strain

Frequent flyers are moving back to long distance trains. Airline tickets up 20% in the year with a drop by 12% in passengers numbers. At the same time, luxury class train travel has increased by 50%.

Indonesia to limit tin output to lift market

Indonesia is the world's biggest exporter of tin. Cap of 90,000 tonnes to be introduced this year and 100,000 next year. 140,000 produced in 2005 but declined since. Estimated global deficit recently revised upwards to 20,000 tonnes for 2008. Estimated reserves in Indonesia 800,000 tonnes.

Price of homes falls for 10th month
Year-on-year fall into double figures.

Shirtmaker has his work cut out for him

Robert Boyd Bowman bought his english shirt manufacturer in order to secure his supply of english made shirts to his despoke City clonthing retailer Alexander Boyd.

Energy Price increses in the UK

4 Jan - Npower
Gas up 17.2%, electricity up 12.7%
15 Jan - EDF Energy
Gas up 12.9%, electricity up 7.9%
18 Jan - British Gas
Gas and electricity up 15%
1 Feb - Scottish Power
Gas up by 15%, electricity up 14%
7 Feb - E.On
Gas up 15%, electricity up 9.7%
19 March - Scottish & Southern
Gas up 15.8%, electricity up 14.2%
5 July - EDF Energy
Gas up 22%, electricity up 17%
30 July - British Gas
Gas up 35%, electricity up 9%
21 Aug - Eon
Gas up 26%, electricity up 16%
21 Aug - Scottish & Southern
Gas up 29.2%, electricity up 19.2%
29 Aug - Scottish Power
Gas up 34%, electricity up 9%
29 Aug - Npower
Gas up 26%, electricity up 14%

Friday, August 29, 2008

No Demand Response, no progress

Interesting day yesterday attending a meeting of the DR (Demand Response) group in Dublin. Jerry Sweeny has talked in detail on his blog about the importance of getting Demand Response in Ireland in order to be significantly increase the amount of wind on the grid.

What became clear to me at this meeting, was that without DR it is going to be hard to make progress on a number of fronts in reducing our dependance on imported energy.

Wind is great if it blows at times of high demand but is a problem if it blows when demand is low. On the grid supply must equal demand and while supply can be increased or decreased by bringing power stations on line, demand is more difficult. When supply is predictable, the high tarriffs for periods of high demand and low tarriffs for periods of low demand help to reduce the peaks and fill in the toughs. But when supply is unpredictable, such as wind or wave, there is currently no way of increase or decreasing demand in real time. This will lead to the situation where wind farms have to be turned off if there is not enough demand.

But if we could make electricity behave more like the financial markets by decreasing the price when supply was plentiful (summer nights) and increasing the price when supply was tight (cold windless evenings) then we could start choosing when to buy electricity depending on price. We all have electricity loads that we can't move. Shops need the lights on when the shop is open, the dinner needs to be cooked before dinner time. But there are also loads we can moved, chilling of food in the supermarket and the time we run the dishwasher.

But having real time pricing is just the first step, the next part of the puzzle is to respond to price changes and this has to be automated in order to move substantial loads.

Real time pricing requires the electricity suppliers to supply a price, for that price to be delivered to the customer and for meter readings to be supplied at short intervals so that the customer is charged the correct amount, we need smart meters. Smart meters come in many flavours but all are currently costly - estimated prices for european installation are over €200. For a householder to want to install a smart meter, it must deliver them a saving, so without real-time pricing and DR, the smart meter delivers no benefit for the customer.

Once we have real time pricing, smart meters and DR, the next step is net metering. This creates the opportunity for arbitrage of electricity - you buy the electricity when it's cheap, store it and sell it when the price goes up again. Now the grid could take substantial amounts of wind with market traders ready to suck up any bargains.

Another long term solution to making use of plentiful wind is to build high capacity interconnectors to UK, making it possible to sell electricity to the highest bidders in Europe. But this also depends on having DR across Europe in order for there to be customers able to take maximum advantage of our wind.

It seems to me that DR is a prerequisite for increasing intermittant renewables and for making most efficient use of electricity thereby decreasing carbon emissions. As these items are high on the governments agenda, why is there so little awareness of, let alone committment to, DR?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My beloved grandfather Peter Mursell died last night and I think my small tribute to him will be to raise his online profile to something that better reflects the profile he had in life.

I have started a blog which everyone who knew him can contribute to and my cousin has started a Facebook group, but any other ideas for raising his online profile would be very welcome.

Love this photo as it sums up my grandfather' character so well. This spring, aged 97, he decides to take up vegetable gardening and typically has a plentiful crop of healthy veg in his first year, using the unconventional tyre method!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dream House - some inspiration

Every 3 to 4 years I start again designing the house I would build if I had the time and where with all (one word or three?). These designs rarely leave my head and vary from a round house centred around an open fire and chimney to a long house built into a hill and currently a square house not dissimilar from the one I live in but designed to be warm and dry. One day I plan to build these houses either in Sketchup or in Second Life, if not in real life....

For the next time I change the design, here is some inspiration: though the extensive use of glass in some buildings leaves me cold, in every sense. passive solar design
How buildings work by Edward Allen

Deeply saddened by Denis Lynch drug test failure

I thought my enjoyment of olympic show jumping was irreperably harmed after the Cian O'Conor affair last time around, but I found myself really enjoying the team show juping event. When the announcement was made regarding Denis Lynch I was absolutely sickened and I'm not sure that my faith in show jumpers (not just Irish) isn't irreperably damaged now.

It must be hard to keep on top of all the prohibited substances however, and the ability to carry out private test to reassure yourself that your horse is clean, or if not, find out what the problem is, would help prevent innocent mistakes. Having said that, Lantinus was tested on arriving in Hong Kong and tested negative.

Maybe we need to find a way of making keeping sport clean a group responsibility. What if counties with olympic athletes testing positive are banned from the following olympics and sports with more than four countries proving positive have their sport dropped from the following olympics? I know that would be hugely unfair on a lot of athletes, but the current system is clearly not keeping drugs out of sport. Or do we have to accept that drug testing will always be one step behind drug taking?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mashup idea - I'll read it later

This probably exists already and could be done with bookmarks - but I want something easier.

Here is what I want:

I'm busy doing important stuff online and am side tracked by a page that looks interesting, but I don't have time to read it now. I want to click a button on the browser and be asked for keywords and an optional description and a priority.

When I have that spare moment, I can browse my list of things to read later by keyword or priority and click the link to read it.

Clicking another button allows me to blog on it, stumble etc. and takes it off my read later list.

Anyone else want this?

Energy Scenarios Ireland 2.0

A few years ago, a team from Feasta, including myself, worked on a project for the EPA looking at the impact on Ireland of changing energy prices. We did this in the form of scenario planning and the original website is still here.

But the time has come to review them and reflect the rapid changes of the last years. We will be doing this review in the form of a blog and them publishing the full report at the end of the year. We have kicked of the process at and look forward to being challenged and corrected in our assumptions!

Finally bringing together my sporting interests and business interests, I have posted on what I think the main risks and opportunities are for horse sports in Ireland in an favourable scenario.

(Hmm, need a logo for Energy Scenarios Ireland, fork in the road? clock? ....... Nothing comes to mind, but love this image from Global Business Network as an example of Scenario Planning concept).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Future of Television?

Some years ago I wrote about how the last thing I wanted from a future TV was the ability to watch anything I wanted any time. Way, way to much choice! I love my TiVo because it gives me a choice of when I watch but from a limited choice of programs I have already recorded or ones the TiVo thought I might like. But it doesn't solve the choice problem that is approaching, when TV switches to the internet and we have choice from all over the world and a mix of professional and amateur channels.

Here is an idea. Maybe I am in a minority, but I like the trailers before the film. If there were programs recommending what to view where I had the opportunity to press a button and say 'record that one', I'd enjoy that. The Top Gear team could preview the upcoming motoring films, documentaries and youTubes. Daniel Craig could do My favorite films for a first date, Greenmonk can give us the lowdown on video podcasts and documentaries on all things green, I can share with the world what I enjoyed even.  The most popular preview programs will be those that are entertaining in their own right and we will learn which presenters have similar tastes to our own.

Key to success would be getting the decision level right. Don't ask me to make decisions too often and don't give me too big a choice.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Idea for Codesprint/Barcamp Cork - Meeting Carbon Count

This mashup would offer the following functionality:
- calculate carbon emissions for each person attending a meeting (travel) plus overheads (heating, lighting etc).
- offer option to offset some or all of the carbon
- offer car pooling by collecting peoples travel plans ahead of time

Using this system would have the added benefit of finding out who intends coming to the meeting - this idea came up at a poorly attended meeting where the room had been booked for larger numbers.

Functionality and Potential sources:
- carbon calculator api -
- meeting organisation - upcoming
- calendars - google
- car pooling - drijo

Potential Market
- NGOs
- Any group holding meetings that include travel and want to reduce their carbon footprint

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mad Dog on a Roll

Not content with winning the 1.10m Grand Prix at White's Cross at the weekend, and picking up over €600 in prize money, he also won the Horse Sport Ireland Amateur Final and a georgeous new Prestige Saddle. Katy jumped very well too and only missed out on a prize when I put her into the double on a really bad stride for 4 faults. The day all went by in a bit of daze, rushing between rings and wondering whether I was being over ambitious riding MD in two big classes, but he is a star and covered up all my mistakes.

Both horses on holidays for bit now in a big field of grass.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Geeks are great language users

There is surely a better title for this post, but it's late... I wanted to celebrate the wonderful language that geeks come up with. For those not in the know who think that geeks are all pasty faced young men who can barely articulate a sentance, you would be completely wrong - on the last count at least. No TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms), that is the province of middle management. I'm going to start listing my favorite phrases here as I come across them, are all wonderfully visual and usually give a sense of their meaning, even to the uninitiated.

A bug - probably the first geek term. The urban myth says and early valve computer when wrong when an insect cause a connection to blow.
Easter Egg feature - a hidden feature only accessible to those in the know.
A pigeon/pidgin language - heard it in an otherwise impenetrable podcast on computing.
Meercating - as in your in an open plan office with shoulder level partitions and you hear a comotion. Everyone started meercating.

Do contribute your own...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mad Dog wins Grand Prix at National Amateur Championships

Mad Dog (aka Pitts Special) gave me the ride of my life to win the Grand Prix at the Outdoor Amatuer Championships yesterday. It's hard to describe the feeling when both you and your horse know each others every thought and you are both in the zone. You set off and get into this rhythm where each fence just comes and goes and both of you are totally focused on jumping this one and before landing are already going for the next one. He has never jumped with such confidence and a big track too. It was a privilege to ride him.

He won me 3 hours training with Olive Clarke, one of Ireland's up and coming show jumpers, and enough vouchers for a stereo system for the horse lorry (for those very long journeys). Thanks Mad Dog.

Sister Katy didn't do so bad either. A confident and fastish clear round in the Speed Derby over a very long track earned her a third place.

Friday, August 1, 2008

MIT solar discovery - is it a big deal?

There is much hype at the moment about MIT's discover of an efficient way to convert sunlight into hydrogen which can be stored and converted to electricity via a fuel cell when required. This will pave the way for effective use of solar panels because we would not be dependant on the sun shining to generate electricity.

The big deal is if this is much more efficient than using a PV panel to generate electricity and storing the electricity in a battery, but I have not found the data that compares the two options. Intuitively I would expect the PV generation to be less efficient that solar to hydrogen, but the battery to be more efficient that the hydrogen to electricity conversion, but I'd like to see the data. Otherwise why the hype about being able to store electricity?