01 January 2011

Review of 2009/2010

As I never got round to reviewing 2009, I'll have to include that year in my review here but will be fairly brief. I made 4 predictions:

1. There will be a second generation of UMPCs, based around ARM processors for extreme low power. Many of them will run GNU/Linux.

This one I think I'll claim as a successful prediction, mainly. There have been a large
number of computers, based around ARM processors, with a highly portable form factor. However these have been mainly smart phones, and more recently devices such as the ipad (OK the prediction was for 2009 and this didn't arrive until 2010). We are yet to see what I would call general-purpose computer platforms emerging around the ARM platform. However I have been using a Sheeva Plug as a file server, which comes fairly close. It doesn't have built-in graphics capability so is only really suitable as a server-type device, but it comes shipped with a port of Ubuntu and I am now running debian on it. I believe there is a BSD port available too.

2. Hybrid cars will take off in the market.

There is considerably more hope that this will be the case now than when I made the prediction, and it is likely that fully-electric cars will become visible in 2011 (although still fairly niche). I think it's probably a failed prediction for 2009 and even 2010, but maybe will be true sometime soon.

3. 2009 will see many more 'household names' going bust because of the recession.

Gosh. A lot has happened, and I can't remember (and can't be bothered to search for) the exact chronology, but a number of household names have gone bust. Woolworths, Magnet, RBS, Northern Rock. I think a number of construction companies too. Mostly a successful prediction, although not quite as bad as I thought.

4. The UK will be forced to abolish the pound and will join the Euro

Having read back to this prediction, I am laughing at myself. The current talk is now of the Euro collapsing, and countries going back to national currencies. The pound seems safe for now, but crises in Greece and Ireland, and possible forthcoming crises in Spain and Portugal have caused journalists to speculate about the Euro's demise. Personally, I am still struggling to see this as being a problem with the Euro per se, as opposed to problems within certain states that are members of the Euro. I cannot see how any country could really pull out of the Euro unilaterally, whether a weaker or a stronger country. The value of the Euro doesn't seem to have been affected yet although that could change.

A quick review of 2010

Towards the end of 2009 I personally signed up to the 10:10 campaign, which aimed to encourage people to reduce their CO2 emissions by 10% in 2010. I decided to take this seriously and see what I could do. It's almost impossible to know how successful I was but there are three main things I did - replacing all the halogen spotlights with LED lights, adding some perspex tertiary glazing and installing photovoltaics on the roof.

The LED lighting should make a significant difference although I've not done an accurate estimate. It's true that although it is possible to find LED lights of adequate quality/brightness, they're still limited to the more expensive end of the market. Don't bother with cheaper ones, they're a waste of time. Also stated equivalent brightness from most suppliers is...well...a lie. New regulations should fix this though as they will need to state lumens, which enables a fair comparison.

The tertiary glazing was a late addition and very hard to judge, but it has reduced condensation (a big problem in this house) quite significantly so I believe it's doing something useful.

I'll fully admit that the photovoltaic installation was a financial decision to take advantage of the feed-in-tariff scheme that started in April, more than an environmental decision. However my electricity consumption measured over a year was 2900kWh, and this should harvest (I prefer that word to the more usual 'generate') about 1900kWh per year. Current trends suggest it may be more than this, although it's hard to tell and will vary in any case from year to year. So it will harvest approximately 65-70% of my usage, which is not too bad at all. The embodied energy should be paid back within 2 years and although the feed-in-tariff lasts for 25 years they should continue to harvest energy for considerably longer, tailing off gradually over time. The most likely thing to go wrong is the inverter. The depressing thing is that the gas usage of the house over the same period was 29000kWh, or 10 times as much (ignoring the fact that thermal electricity power stations are usually 30-50% efficient).

The other main change in 2010 is that I am now working from home. I am really enjoying the flexibility and convenience of this, although occasionally there are distractions from other family members that can be problematic. In many ways I wish I'd made the transition earlier. One side effect is that I will have an increased electricity consumption (especially to heat the office) but this is really just transferred from an external employer to myself, and not new consumption. So I am choosing to ignore this.


I have now decided that I'm going to do my own 11:11 campaign, in the absence of any nationally- or globally-coordinated equivalent - i.e. aim to reduce my CO2 by a further 11% during 2011.

Here is what I think I can do to achieve this. I aim to review at the end of they year what I have actually done.

1. A solar hot water system.
I deliberately left one part of the roof free to enable such a system to be installed. However, investigation of what's required suggests that I will need a new hot water storage tank, as the current one is too small and not suitable. This will add considerably to the expense, and it's not clear yet whether this factor will derail the plan. However I can also upgrade the heating controls as part of this, and I reckon this would also reduce the energy consumption quite considerably. Hard to know but the two together should reduce the gas consumption by 20-25% by my estimation. This alone would probably achieve my 11% overall reduction.

2. More tertiary glazing, plus thicker curtains in more places (primarily the dining room). Currently we have some of the thin film insulation over many windows which is surprisingly effective, but it looks a bit unsightly and also doesn't last more than a year and is fragile. Thick curtains have made a big difference upstairs so if we can reduce heat loss in the dining room and kitchen (which is now the coldest room in the house in the mornings) this should make a big difference.

3. Finish loft insulation. To my shame there is an unopened roll of loft insulation that just needs laying out (less than an hour to do). I should lay this over the remaining parts of the loft with only 5 inches of insulation. I could also do something to raise the boards up and allow more insulation in the central section too.

4. Wood-fired stove in the living room. I'll probably actually save this until 2012, but this could be a really nice feature in the room and allow us to use sustainable wood to provide some of the heating, as well as enabling us to heat just this room to a high temperature during the day. However wood is not cheap to come by in the Cambridge area, so I need to investigate this further.

Predictions for 2011

Here's a stab in the dark at what I think will happen in this year.

1. Portugal and Spain will both require some sort of bailout, similar to what Greece and Ireland have had. This is not rocket science and is what the mainstream press is saying, and I believe them.

2. ISPs will drag their feet in the face of IPv4 address exhaustion, and rather than pushing IPv6 will push existing kludges such as NAT as a way round it. This is somewhat depressing but I see little evidence of them taking the issue seriously.

3. Solar Photovoltaic installers will have a bumper year and do very well as the feed-in-tariff is the same as last year but the scheme is known about by a lot more people - not least because there are many visible installations from this year. Panel prices will continue to drop but the overall cost will stay the same as this year (or even rise) due to high demand.

4. The UK coalition government will collapse, and we'll have a general election. Labour will be returned to power, but not necessarily with a majority. There is plenty of evidence of tensions between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives (no surprises there) and insufficient mechanisms were put in place to deal with them. They should concentrate on doing this things that they broadly agree on, and not push the policies where they differ significantly. That's the only way they could survive a full term as a coalition. The recent student funding changes were very damaging to both parties in my view, although the LibDems have suffered most in the short term. Also, the austerity measures will bite and cause mass protests and the country will go into recession again.

That's it for now.

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