Friday, May 13, 2011

Solar power update

Various snippets of news ...

EDF have told us that the first FIT payment and payment for electricity supplied to the grid is about to be transferred into our bank account. A mere £19 or so, this being for the 45 units we generated from mid-December to the end of February - but you have to start somewhere.

The reading was requested in March, and I sent it on 1st March - incidentally, just before the system really started to get going. As I mentioned in an earlier post, EDF only undertook to make the payment within 90 days of the end of the month that the reading was taken - which would have been the end of June, basically. So it was reassuring to be told it would be arriving six weeks earlier than that. I don't know if had I taken the reading later in the month, whether I'd have got the payment at the same time.

The next payment will be for electricity generated from March 1 to the end of May, and will be somewhat more substantial - we're running at an average of around 7 units per day at the moment, and I think we'll be claiming for around 500 kWh for those three months.

The amount of electricity we are drawing from the mains is lower - and noticeably lower on bright days than on dull days. Several years ago, we seemed to be using an average of around 20-22 units per day, all year round. I think our usage is somewhat less than that now - partly due to the replacement of appliances with more efficient ones, and use of low energy lightbulbs, over the last few years; partly due to the feedback from the energy monitor that we have - in the last few months of the winter, it sometimes spiked at over 20 units per day, but the average was around 17. Less power is used for lighting and so on in the summer, so that would bring it down a bit further. But the seven-day moving average of electricity units drawn from the main has actually been below 10 since early April. For a few days in the clear, bright weather at the start of May, we were generating over 11 kWh per day, and the moving average of the amount we were generating was actually above the moving average of the amount we were using.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

U211 versus deconstruction

The OU course U211 "Exploring the English Language" continues to provide food for thought, and a drain on money as I buy books related to it. I've been interested by how "un-postmodern" it is as a course. The influential linguist Halliday developed a system called systemic functional linguistics, which intriguingly I brushed past as I was doing my computer science degree over 20 years ago, when as a field of study it would have been pretty much brand new.

Functional linguistics is in turn developed from the work of Bronislaw Malinowski, who focused on the use of language in context. He asserted that language is only really comprehensible if we take into account the whole context in which it occurs - the interlinking of language used and the setting in which it is used. In other words, if you take a text out of context, you are going to lose some of the meaning and significance. There's an old saying amongst Bible teachers, that "a text without a context is a pretext". It's not quite addressing the same issue, but it does work as an epigram in this field. And the most reliable Bible teachers take seriously the need to understand sections of the Bible in context, rather than using them merely as a springboard for their own thoughts.

English Literature as a field is almost next to this study of English Language/Linguistics. And yet, at times, its approach to context is almost the exact opposite. There is the deconstructive sense that (as I understand it) the meaning of the text is entirely found in the reader, rather than the creator. Thus, in literature terms, it is legitimate to analyse Shakespeare as a gay text, for example. I don't think the linguistic approach would object to a reader explaining the personal significance of a text, but it does insist that the full meaning of a text is found not in the response of the reader, but in its original context.

A deconstructive approach is ultimately self-defeating, as any text (including the one written by the person analysing another) is open to reinterpretation according to any context. Of course, there is the need to be aware of the cultural baggage of a reader as well as the cultural context of the writer - but this is very different from arguing, in effect, that authorial intent is irrelevant.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The FIT scam

It sounds fairly scammy that the government should pay people for generating solar power, far more than the electricity costs to generate or that any company can sell the electricity for. However, this is a government scheme to encourage uptake of microgeneration of electricity. There was a grants regime before, and this has replaced it. And the payback time is still likely to be over a decade - worthwhile, but you need to have a long view.

What is more of a scam is the electricity company role in this. The standard regime is that electricity that we generate and don't use we get paid 3p per unit for. The electricity doesn't bother metering it - they have decided to pay us for half the units we generate. The payment scheme for this is that they say they will pay us within 90 days of the end of the month on which the meter reading was taken. And herein lies the scam.

The next meter reading I do is due in June. Let's say I do it on June 1st. It will relate to the electricity I generated in March, April and May, which will amount to around 500 units, let's say - worth £200 of Feed-In Tariff payments. A significant proportion of this electricity will have fed into the grid - let's say half. That is 250 units that the electricity company doesn't have to incur costs to generate in March-May. But they don't have to pay for them until 90 days after the end of June - that is, the end of September. And when they do pay for them, they only pay 3p per unit. In the meantime, they will have billed and collected their standard rate for them - 12-13p per unit at the moment.

I hadn't put the numbers together when I had this installed just how good a deal it is for the electricity companies. Ours is already exploiting our direct debit scheme to ensure that they are almost always sitting on (and earning interest on) several hundred pounds of credit balance on our account. The companies pushed people to take up direct debit, on the basis of convenience, and a small reduction in charges - but if our experience is typical, they are probably sitting on, and earning interest on, several hundred million pounds of prepayments. Add to this the FIT scheme - it makes it clear that the main short-term beneficiaries of the scheme are not the people who have the systems installed, but the electricity companies.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The morning after

It may seem an odd thing to say, but I am not political - or at least, not party political - or at least, I haven't been party political up to now. I have fairly strongly (and apparently unsuccessfully!) backed the AV campaign. The fundamental reason for this is because I believe in weak government - government that takes place by consensus and co-operation between parties, rather than through the control of one political party. My adult life, until this time last year, has been spent under governments which have doggedly placed the concerns of vested interests and ideologies above their responsibility for the nation, and consequence of this is that the nation has mortgaged its future, and we will basically be paying the price for this forever. Seriously. There were good things that we had as a nation 25 years ago that we will simply never have again, thanks to the last two governments. The wealth of our nation has been squandered.

In England, this seems to be simply not understood by the electorate - either that, or the "electorate" (if millions of votes can be represented as a single entity) simply wished to register a huge howl of protest at its discomfort. The idea of people returning to Labour at the moment is absurd - it has a new leader, but there is nothing to suggest that it has any better idea of how to govern than when it was turned out of office last year. The fact that even in opposition, they are still talking about allowing the deficit to continue to increase confirms this - just how much of the national income do we have to spend on interest payments? And what is going to happen when the base rate starts to increase? I don't understand how anybody with any sense of how government finance works can sleep at night at the moment.

The idea of people realistically thinking that the junior partner in the coalition could or should have been able to do more than they have to change the direction of the senior partner is also absurd. I don't understand why the Liberals should be punished when they have actually done what they can to make sure the impact of the fiscal tightening is felt by and large by those who can afford it (I say this as someone who by this time next year will be literally thousands of pounds a year worse off) - or, for that matter, why the coalition should be punished for trying to sort out the pile of poo that the economy was left in by the last government, or, for that matter, how anybody can tolerate the smug self-righteousness of anybody in the Labour party criticising the current government.

As for the referendum, it looks like there goes our chance for electoral reform for the next generation - and probably the only chance the nation had to save itself from government by ideology rather than consensus. It's interesting that even with a big reaction against the coalition government, the share of the vote in England was: Labour, 37%; Conservative, 32%; Liberal, 15%. The strong government approach would give one of those parties the mandate to run the government according to its party ethos. A weak government approach (of the sort that I'd prefer) would point out that no party is attracting even 40% of the vote, so no party should consider that it has a mandate to rule according to its party ethos. Only by working together can political parties claim to have a democratic mandate where the vote is split in this way, and the reason the vote is split is because no normal people believe in the ethos of parties any more. A voting system which more clearly highlights the subtleties of what people are looking for in politics - as AV would have done at least a little more - would have served the nation better than the current system, which keeps asking people the same question that they stopped being interested in 30 years ago.

More money may have been raised by the "Yes" campaign - but they had a lot more work to do, given the opposition of most of the press. It has been acknowledged that the "No" campaign simply made stuff up - something which is okay in a referendum, apparently, because no candidate is affected as a result. Hmph. A lot of candidates stand to benefit from these lies, and a lot of voters stand to have their votes ignored.

But the people have spoken. We had the opportunity to think about the issue, to ask questions and so on - and we weren't interested. As I said earlier in the campaign, as a nation, we probably get the government we deserve.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Death of Osama Bin Laden

Opinions seem to have been divided about this. For a fair number of people on Facebook, it was an opportunity for rather lame jokes - but then, some people tell jokes about most atrocities and appalling events - laughing in the face of grim realities, perhaps, at risk of rationalising something gross. Few people that I know reacted with the sort of triumphalism that was seen by crowds in the US when it was announced. It was worth noticing that although there was a sense of achievement from the US government, I would have described their attitude overall as being closer to grim than celebratory.

Amongst the more thoughtful people, this quotation "went viral" -
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" - Martin Luther King
Interestingly, whilst the second half - from "Returning hate for hate..." - is a quotation from MLK - possibly one he used on several occasions (I found it on the internet in a sermon from 1957, and a speech in 1963) - the first half is made up by somebody else. Whether the two parts of the quotation were erroneously joined or somebody deliberately tried to pass off a new line as his is unclear - see here for a little more discussion on this. Here is how it ought to be more correctly:
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Conspiracy theories are an inevitable consequence of a connected age - but then, now I mention it, they always abounded. Perhaps they just spread faster now. In much the same way that the Roman/Jewish authorities could have dealt with the rumours of Jesus' resurrection by producing his body, the credibility of the US government would be destroyed if Bin Laden were to appear alive or if his body could be shown to be somewhere else. The parallels and contrasts are interesting. In the case of Jesus, the assertion of the disciples was that he was risen, and their behaviour reflected that - something stopped them cowering in upper rooms as they had been immediately after Jesus' execution. It should have been in the power of the authorities to scotch this rumour, but they didn't. In the case of Bin Laden, the assertion of the conspiracy theorists is that he isn't dead. The authorities claim to have available evidence to refute this, although they haven't released it. In support of the proposition that he is dead, they claim to have eyewitnesses, and other circumstantial evidence (the content of Bin Laden's computer), and events are likely to take place which follow from him being dead. The stakes are incredibly high, and the US government knows this - the damage that would be done to them and indeed the credibility of the United States as a whole if they were shown to be wrong in this regard would be immeasurable. With all this at stake, the incentives for anybody to even produce evidence of a body somewhere other than where the US government says, let alone Bin Laden appearing live on the scene, are probably as large as the reward that the government offered. But absent any evidence that Bin Laden is still alive, the conspiracy theories will continue to look as though they are based on "blind faith", rather than any evidence.