Monday, August 29, 2011

How Your Shoes Can Charge Your Phone

Dear Reader,

Yes, the scientists over in America are developing a shoe that's able to charge your phone! Imagine that: you get a call, knowing that your phone is probably going to cut out halfway - so you plug it into your shoes, and go for a walk around the office.

It might be a great nuisance to your co-workers, but I think it's a pretty clever idea.

So, how does it work? Well, that's quite interesting: there's a little technique called 'electrowetting', where you can get a liquid to wet a previously unwettable surface by charging it with an electrical charge. You can see it happening here.

It's been discovered by some clever man that the process can work in reverse, i.e., deform a liquid used in electrowetting, and it'll generate a bit of electricity.

The problem right now is that that bit of electricity is a bit too small to do anything with, but he reckons he can get it to be a big enough bit of electricity to charge a mobile phone (or even a laptop).

It may even have defensive capabilities, like running away from a mugger for 5 minutes, then giving him an electrified boot in the shins - no, that's close to impossible, but it'd be funny alright!

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Greaves

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Optical Illusions Can Help You Save Power

Dear Reader,

From the scientists over in America, a way has been suggested that would allow us lowly power users to save power through optical illusion.
The way? Create a length of tape with numbers on them that fits neatly over the meter, so that the meter reader's optics are illusioned...

Just joking - don't go reporting me, thanks. No, the real way is far more interesting. It goes something like this:

All your light bulbs are run on AC electricity, which means that they 'flicker' (sort of). The reason for this is because the current goes one way, stops, goes the other way, then repeats - meaning that the light, at some point, turns off. Sort of.
I don't want to get too technical, but the point is that it 'flickers' at such a high rate (60 times a second) that we don't even notice it.

Now, what they want to try and do is keep it on for 70 milliseconds, turn it off for 10, then turn it back on. Basically, this alters the 'flickering' so that it stays off for a bit longer than normal - about 12.5% longer - and you wouldn't even notice it.

And this 12.5% translates into 12.5% savings. Sort of.

Why all the sort ofs? Well, it's difficult to get reliable testing out of optical illusions because people's brains respond differently.

Anyway, onto the figures: the EnergyWise website reckons that 8% of the bill goes on lighting. So, in a bill of $200, you'd be spending $16 on lighting.
If you were to save 12.5% on that, you'd have saved yourself a great big $2 a month!

Well, it's a bit underwhelming, I suppose; but now you can go and give an interesting little tid-bit to your mates.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Greaves

Monday, August 15, 2011

How to Illuminate Your House (Cheaply) Without Looking Dead

Dear Reader,

Just recently, I had a look at a light bulb that would save as much power as those compact fluorescent light bulbs, without the peculiar attribute of projecting light that made people look dead.
You see, at my age, you become quite concerned when you see yourself in the mirror; and even more so when you're lit up by fluorescent lighting!

Anyway, they work along the same lines as Cathode-ray tubes (have a look at my newsletters, where I go into a bit more depth about that), but without all the nasty x-rated-rays; apparently they also shine in all directions (as opposed to in beams), the light's a bit warmer, they don't contain mercury, and they reach peak brightness a lot faster than the compact fluorescent light bulbs.

They're also said to be better than LED light bulbs because they don't have a sharp peak in the blue section of the light spectrum - this is good because blue light might be damaging to the eyes. But, I'll go into that more a bit later on.

So there we have it: a new competitor that gives light that makes things look like they're illuminated by incandescent bulbs, with the lifespan of fluorescent bulbs. Be one to look out for, I reckon.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Greaves

Thursday, August 11, 2011

3 News Pieces Tenuously Related to Power

Dear Reader,

As the title suggests, I found a few nuggets of interest; and yes, they are related to power (sort of):

First, BP has brought its petrol prices down a sliver to $2 (or thereabouts); marvelous, I said!
At least, I thought so until I remembered that a few years ago they were closer to $1; I suppose it's a little like being happy about tax rebates until you realise that the money was yours to begin with.
Anyway, how are the petrol prices related to power? In a few ways, actually: petrol prices might mean lower power bills, i.e., doesn't definitely mean lower power bills. This is because it has the potential to cost a tiny bit less to run the various machines (possibly through lessened oil and diesel costs).
Don't hold your breath though: I'd say that this is more like one of those things where the change only happens in one direction, i.e., when petrol prices go up, power becomes more expensive, but not the other way around.
Still, that's a bit of extra money in the pocket.

Secondly, Wellington homes seem to have benefited from a bit of extra insulation, thanks to, in part, EECA grants. Having had my own home retrofitted with insulation in the roof and under the floors, I can say it makes one huge difference: now there's actually a point using heaters, because the warmth doesn't escape the instant it comes into contact with the ceiling!

Since I'm a bit of a figures man, though, I'll give you a few percentages to consider:
Installing insulation in just the floor and ceiling keeps up to 50% of the heat in; so, assuming that 50% less heat-loss translates to 50% less heater usage, you'll be saving about 14.5% on the overall bill - if we go on the EECA's figures.

To get more details on how to make the most out of heating, though, sign up to get my free newsletter.

Thirdly, an author over at Scientific American has taken it upon himself to review 20 applications for the iPhone; and what do they do? Determine the amount of tilt your solar panels need to get the maximum amount of sun for power generation!
Well, I think it's quite impressive. It also means you can really interfere with the work of the guy trying to adjust the solar panels.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Greaves

Monday, August 8, 2011

9 Reasons for Climate Unchange in New Zealand

Dear Reader,

Just yesterday, the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition released an article giving 9 reasons why a paper published by the climate research arm of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd (NIWA) is defective:

  • It runs counter to all the historical records regarding “NZ average temperatures,”, including those compiled in 1867, 1920, and 1964. The archive shows that current temperatures are slightly cooler than those of 150 years ago.
  • Its trend outcome is heavily influenced by data from Auckland and Wellington stations which are declared in the peer-reviewed literature to be contaminated and to show false warming; and it fails to adjust for UHI at any of the six non-rural stations.
  • It uses adjustments derived from comparisons between “isolated stations” in direct defiance of the scientific authorities.
  • It radically departs from the statistical techniques laid down by its chosen precedent, Rhoades & Salinger. Correctly applied, those techniques demonstrate that New Zealand has experienced no material warming trend during the past century.
  • It does not disclose the uncertainties (margins of error) associated with any of its adjustments; and statistically insignificant changes are applied.
  • Its high warming trend is created by implausible accumulating adjustments, which lack the random spread and self-balancing effects described in the literature.
  • Its sole corroboration, the 11SS, is driven by missing data and is demonstrably flawed ; it serves no purpose other than to damage NIWA’s credibility.
  • Recommendations from station reports by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) were apparently ignored. The pervasive secrecy surrounding all of the BoM review documents casts doubt on the process.
  • Most of the warming in NIWA’s graphs occur during the first half of the twentieth century. This pattern is at odds with NIWA’s official advice that warming was driven by global CO2 emissions – which are concentrated in the last 40 years.
So what?

Well, have a look at the last point about CO2 emissions: "This pattern is at odds with NIWA's official advice that warming was driven by global CO2 emissions". If there's no CO2 emissions-driven warming, there's probably no justification for the Emissions Trading Scheme. Although, this was alleged yesterday too.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for any updates. If it's true, I should hope we don't see a significant rise in power prices either; that'd be nice.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Greaves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meridian's Solar Promise

Dear Reader,

Meridian has jumped on the 'Solar Promise' bandwagon. 'Bandwagon' may carry a few negative connotations, so let's just call it a wagon.
What does the Solar Promise wagon promise, then? It promises to allow individuals and companies to promise to get their friends, family, and customers to promise to take a serious glance at installing solar heating.

Jokes aside, it's actually an initiative begun by the Nelson City Council, et al, to make solar energy more affordable; and they've done this by introducing a rates-based financing scheme (that should give one cause for further investigation), and waiving solar resource consents; well, I certainly like the last one!

Being the calculating type - don't frown like that: I meant the type that likes to do calculations - I liked that they included a few figures on the website, that is:

1. that power bills have risen by 78% in the last 8 years; and,

2. that solar water heating can reduce the costs of hot water heating by 75%.

Now, for the calculations: from 2, then, you would end up saving about 21% on the overall bill (assuming 29% of the bill goes to hot water heating costs). So, if you've got a power bill of $200 per month, you'll be saving $42 per month.

Seeing that a hot water heating system costs between $4,000 - $8,000, it'll take between 8 - 16 years to recoup the cost on a money-saved-because-we-don't-have-to-heat-so-much-water basis alone - provided the power bill stays the same.
If, however, the power bill goes up another 78% in 8 years, at a rate of 9.75% a year, the cost'll be recouped within 7 - 10 years.

So, is it worth it? Well, I'm not your accountant. But, if I was, I'd say that it depended on what your goals were, and what kind of term for fulfillment you'd be happy with. Aside from that though, a solar hot water heating system would add a bit of resell value to the house.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Greaves