A summer of generation and consumption

At the holiday house (www.VarisHoliday.co.uk), we now have about three months data (96 days).    The house has had guest in for most of this time but we ran the heating regardless as we wanted to bring the house which had sat with minimal heating through the winter up to proper warmth throughout.

From 5th May to 9th August:

Total house import                            1066 kWh
PV Generation                                  1073 kWh
Air source heat pump consumption  1082 kWh

So on average, 11kWh a day for each measure.  

We've experimented with the setting on the ASHP so that it runs more during the day so we maximise running the ASHP on sunshine. 

More PV generation and an air source heat pump

I've been a bit busy.  My partner and I decided to buy a holiday house in the latter part of 2013 and finally got the keys in February.  Since then, we have been working to get the house ready for the 2014 holiday letting season.   

We think it now looks rather good :

If you fancy staying there for your holiday, please go to www.VarisHoliday.co.uk.

The house sleeps 6 in 3 bedrooms and is a spacious comfortable house, overlooking Loch Alsh just 5 miles from the Skye Bridge.

Since this picture was taken, we have installed an air source heat pump (ASHP) and PV panels.  Our hope is that in the period of peak use of the house, the PV panels will power the ASHP which will in turn heat the house and provide hot water.  Our initial calculations are that the PV panels are significantly powering the ASHP and we are working to optimise the controlling programme use more of our power.

Now fans of this blog will know that I like monitoring.  At Varis, we can see how much power the ASHP is taking and what the internal temperature is.  The internal temperature varies a lot : when there is no-one there, we turn the heating right down and some guests (for example a Malaysian family) want the house to be significantly warmer than we regard as normal in the UK.

The live feed is at http://my.currentcost.com/device/1189895837

Two years of PV generation

A year ago, I reported on our PV panels.  You may have noticed a little more sunshine this year that last (I even spoke to an Aberdeenshire farmer yesterday who didn't complain about the weather). 

That gave us 3030 kWh of generation and we imported 2426 kWh - both changes in the right direction.  We consumed a little less 3851 kWh.   It's nice to be carbon negative on our electricity (we import from a 100% renewables company). 

Just the oil central heating and travel to focus on ....

A Challenge - EUR 44 per head for cycling?

With some amount of fanfare, the Scottish Government has published their Cycle Action Plan for Scotland 2013 which reviews and updates their 2010 plan.

They describe their target of 10% journeys by cycle as ambitious.  It is ambitious given the paucity of the plan.  But it's not ambitious by international standards. 

So what are the Scottish Government actually proposing?
One measure you can't escape from is cash.

Netherlands EUR 487m/ year - so EUR 30 per head of population each year

London is spending £104m/year - some EUR 21 per head of population each year.

The Peterhead Cycle Demostration project has a total budget of £185,000 - a one off-spend of EUR 13 per head over the three year life of the project.

So what is the Scottish Government proposing in their nice new shiny CyclingAction Plan?  Well it looks like there will be less than £47m over three years (part of the monies are for walking and safer streets) so that EUR 55m.  Sound greats - until you remember that between a population of 5.3m and over 3 years so that comes down to a miserly EUR 3.4 per head of population each year.

If the Government are serious about cycling, perhaps a good place to start would be allocating the 10% modal share aim in terms of the transport budget to cycling.    Transport Scotland has £2,000m a year.  So £200m a year for cycling from that budget.  Ok that's then  EUR 44 per head - but have a lot of catching up to do to get the type of infrastucture that people enjoy in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Winter cycling in Copenhagen


I have just come to the end of my first 48 hours as a beekeeper.  I kindly acquired a hive full - 11 frames with bees and stores across the frames.

I have thought about keeping bees for many years but was prompted to get myself organised due to the reports of declining populations.  I think this is probably a combination of factors: varroa mites, loss of habitat, pesticides, ... and public policy doesn't work well in multi-faceted situations.

We need robust research through 2014 and 2014 when the neonicotinoid temporary ban is in place and in my view, serious preventative action to ensure that no more bee diseases are imported.

Bees are simply too important to risk.

For those interested, here is a short video of my bees bringing in pollen today.  I'm hoping they have found sources other than the oil seed rape (which will have been treated with neonicotinoids) to the north - and as the pollen seems to be cream/pale yellow, I reckon they may have.

(and yes, the entrance block is ill-fitting and the pollen is in 'pollen baskets', specially adapted hairs on the back legs of the bees)

Generation, consumption and import

We have just had the first full year where we've had PV panels and monitoring of our energy consumption.  We have also been sad enough to take daily readings of generation and import.

So for other energy anoraks out there (showing 7 day moving averages to get rid of the 'noise'):

The captions are a little difficult to read, but you see that Consumption (green) generally sticks in the 10-15kWh/day with dips when we are on away, import (red) seems to have a baseline of 5kWh/day in summer, rising to 10kWh (or more) in winter and that the PV panels (blue) are more or less performing as we expected (dark blue). 

The electricity bills have more-or-less halved as a result of the PV panels.

Annual figures come out at: 
PV Generation 2856 kWh
Import 2505 kWh
Consumption 3913 kWh 

... and therefore we estimate Export at 1447 kWh.  

We are pretty focused on running the washing machine and the dishwasher when the sun shines (or at least during the day) but it's diffcult to time-shift much of our other consumption.

You can see an overnight cycle which is fridge/freezer.  The peaks are the cooking and kettle and then we have computers and TVs.

The apparent base load is getting our attention but the honest calculation is that moving to more energy efficient appliances but it's not worth us making a special effort so we will think about this as we need to replace   The induction hob however does seem to be efficient (all our cooking is electric).  We do have a few gizmos to help ensure that we don't leave things on standby. 

So, what we really need is cost effective ways to store our electricty to use it later (see previous post below) - and focus on using less oil for water and space heating.  The woodburning stove is great for cold days and we have ready supplies of wood - but I think tackling the insulation of our solid walls is the next serious investment.   

Thanks to the Macauley (now James Hutton) Institute for the Consumption Monitoring kit.

Energy use and Generation

A recent report from UKERC The UK energy system in 2050:Comparing Low-Carbon, Resilient Scenarios highlights a few important challenges we all have to face.  These are a selection of the main 'pull out' quotes from the report (my bold)
  • ... the sets of technologies to meet the challenge exist, and deploying them is a much lower cost option than the damages from climate change, estimates elsewhere that will ensue if the UK and other countries fail to rise to it.
  • .. of the ways in which the Elastic Demand version of MARKEL (the model used) can meet policy objectives (e.g. carbon reduction constraints) is to reduce energy service demands through price elasticities of demand. 
  • Hydrogen and electric vehicles dominate the transport mix by 2050, this has resultant impacts on the power sector with vehicles being recharged during time of low demand
  • For the targets to be met an economy wide carbon price would need to be gradually imposed, on top of all existing carbpon.enery taxes, reaching about the current level of fuel duty by 2050.
  • All buildings, new and existing, will have to be much more energy efficient.
With the ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere tripping over the 400 mark for the first time and China now announcing serious carbon emission reduction targets, we have a two choices:
bury our heads in the sand or take action.

Hello again

I haven't posted on this blog for a while: I felt I wanted some distance between my new role as a planning consultant and private person and my previous role as councillor.  But I shall now start blogging again on things that interest, intrigue or engage me. 

Integrity, principle and trust in politics

"You cannot hope to requisition,
Thank God, the British politician,
But seeing what the man will do,
Unasked, there's no occasion to."

Tomorrow, please don't vote for Davidson, Merson or Owen.


May 2012

I have announced that I will not be standing in the May 2012 elections.  After 13 years as a councillor (and with the last 4.5 years being "interesting", I have decided to focus on my new career as a planning consultant. 

A full statement can be found at http://aberdeengreens.org.uk/news/new-job-means-councillor-wil-stand-down

Living within our means

It's a problem for households and councils and today many councils wrestled more or less successfully with putting themselves onto a more sustainable footing. Sadly Aberdeenshire rejected the Democratic Independent proposals to raise £2m each year by exploiting renewable energy opportunities.

But even more than money (and we are reminded by Osbourne's latest round of quantitative easing that money is a social construct) we are overspent on resources - energy, water, food. I am indebted to Alan Owen of RGU for a thought provoking presentation to the RTPI this evening that highlighted the extent of the problem and to Bob Reid for pointing me to This recent Limits to Growth article.

On a global scale, there simply isn't enough to go round. There is no 'silver bullet' to fix this. To get down to sustainable levels, we need to consume at the level of Ghana and Palastine - and we are many time that. Here in the UK we need to reduce energy consumption by a whopping 87%.

So do we hide our heads on the sand and hope the problem goes away? Tempting.

But let's be positive.

Here in the north east of Scotland, we have great resources.
Could we grow enough food to feed everyone in the NE? Yes.
Could we produce enough energy to provide for our total energy needs? Yes.
Could we reduce our water consumption to sustainable levels. Of course, Yes.

The bigger question is will we?

So - over to you.

What do we need to do?
What changes have to be made?
How can we, together make it happen?

Strategic Development Plan : Main Issues Report Consultation

Please don't go to sleep.  This is important.

The Strategic Plan sets out in outline what the Local Development Plans have to say.  And they determine whether planning applications are granted.  It you do - or don't - want development in that field near you.   THIS IS YOUR BEST OPPORTUNITY TO INFLUENCE.

The new plan is not greatly different to the old except it takes development out to 2035 with, for example, in the Ellon-Blackdog corridor, in addition to sites for 825 houses already in the pipeline (I guess mainly Castle Meadows and Trump/Menie), another 800 are planned up to 2016 with a further 1,500 to 2026 and 1,500 to 2035.     That is roughly equivalent to a whole extra Ellon.   

The plan claims to be concerned about climate change and economic development and contains an interesting section on waste with the Ellon-Blackdog corridor identified as an area of search for new waste processing facilities.   

Please look at the documents at http://www.aberdeencityandshire-sdpa.gov.uk/DevelopmentPlan/StrategicDevelopmentPlan/2011_10_07MainIssuesReport.asp.  

I'll comment more here once I have digested all the documents but I am happy to answer your queries here.

Housing Allocation Information

A short while ago, I worried about proposed changes to Council House Allocation Policy.

Part of the justification given for the charges is

"the reasons behind the proposed changes are primarily to ensure the Council makes best use of
its stock and to give applicants realistic housing options. If you look at the attached spreadsheet for Formartine it shows that out of the 24 settlement 5 have a stock of 3 or less houses; 9 had no turnover in 2010/2011 and a further 8 had turnover of only 1 or 2 houses. While allowing applicants to chose from 24 settlement may appear to offer choice, in reality it is misleading in that there is either no or very little turnover in many of these settlements."

But over 40% give the reason for refusal in Formartine as Not Area Desired.  Just how does forcing people to specify a larger area help this?

Garden unsuitable
No longer require housing
No reason given
No response within 5 working days
Not area desired
Not ready to move
Property type unsuitable
Property unsuitable

Wouldn't it be better to be honest with people about the (lack of) houses available across the area:

Formartine  1 bed 2 bed 3 bed 4 bed
CUMINESTOWN 11 21 14 1
DAVIOT 3 2 4
ELLON 134 92 51
FYVIE 32 20 11
METHLICK 20 17 4
NEWBURGH 12 10 13
OLDMELDRUM 50 56 10 4
PITMEDDEN 14 25 22
TARVES 29 14 6 5
TURRIFF 99 130 66 2

and ask them to pick enough areas where they would accept a house as possible, pointing out that the total turnover last year was only 82 houses against a waiting list of 951.

Or does the council think that prospective council house tenants are too stupid to figure out that where houses are in short supply, their odds of getting offered anything is close to snowball in hell - but that if they choose places with some stock, there is a better chance?

North East Scotalnd Credit Union - coming to Ellon?

While at the RGU Fresher's Fair with the Scottish Young Greens yesterday, I got into conversation with John McCrank of the North East Scotland Credit Union. They have early stage plans of expanding their operations into Ellon and we discussed a few possibilities for where they could set-up a couple of times each week.

So if there is anyone you would like to be a local volunteer in Ellon, please get in touch with John at johnmcc@nescu.co.uk

More cuts and more straightjackets for local government.

Today I was at a Scrutiny and Audit Committee meeting where it was clear that over £400,000 of this years budget cuts would not be achieved ... And because some of this was primary school closures with the saving in futures years being over £2 million next year and a further £1 million in subsequent years, the consequences for future years are significant. Apart from the lack of a robust educational case for the planned closures, the stopper was the Scottish Government deciding that no rural primaries would be allowed to close.

Now John Swinney is saying that councils will again not be allowed to raise council tax ...

With the Council Tax freeze, councillors were left to decide what to cut. When ministers decided that some areas for saving were off limits, they then directed the cuts to other areas. And now the cuts will continue deeper than ever.

When I first stood a friend said "remember, Debra, that councils really can only do what government tells them to do and then it is compulsory'. She was only a quarter joking - the freedom to do things for the benefit of the citizen has always been limited.

Now the room to manoeuvre is being limited for as much as the next 5 years.   It's not an attractive prospect for Councillors doing little more than decide where the axe shall fall.  Fred Macauley on Radio Scotland this morning joked that perhaps the current 32 councils should be merged into one.  If the Scottish Government does not increase the independence of councils both in terms of what they are allowed to do and how they raise the funds to do it, then maybe Fred is right.

Local Transport Strategy - consultation

Aberdeenshire Council is now consulting on the next version of the Local Transport Strategy.  The draft is better than the old strategy in that it at least thinks that walking and cycling is a transport option rather than a leisure activity but I am sure we can improve it further.

You can read the draft here.

If you wish to comment on the draft LTS, you can use the online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/draftLTS or you can email details comments to ltsconsultation@aberdeenshire.gov.uk - or both!

The closing date for responding is 31 October 2011.

Empty Home

Housing standing empty for long periods are a problem and could make a contribution to the housing stock if they were brought back into use.  The first step is to know about them.
If you know of an empty home, please use Report Empty Homes.

Council housing allocation policy

I'm worried.

The Council is currently consulting on changing many aspects of its housing allocation policies but is trying to fast track some changes (see the full report here).

The proposals that worry me are

1. to reduce the number of reasonable offer from 2 to 1 and reduce the suspension period for refusal of a reasonable offer from 12 months to 6 months.

2. combine the existing letting areas (basically settlements) into larger units and ask people to select at least 2 of these bigger units rather than 5 settlements.

In Formartine, people would then be required to select 2 from:

Fyvie/Auchterless/Rothienorman/Meikle Wartle
Oldmeldrum/Barravale/Pitmedden/Tarves/Udny Green/Udny Station

Any 2 of those 5 would cover a big area.  If people have places of work, family and friends who provide essential social support (taking care of the kids after school, etc), maybe it is simply not possible to live in Methlick rather than Potterton (16.5 miles away) : and the definition of reasonable is based on the housing need not wider social needs.

Council officers told us that the average number of people who are offered a council house before accepting it is 2.4 - or to put it another way, there is a 60% chance of someone turning down a house that is offered to them.  Locally we were told that the reason is rarely the quality of the house - so it must be location.  We are under pressure to let houses faster and reduce the housing waiting list.  But forcing people to select a large area and then saying "take it or suspend you from the waiting list for 6 months" doesn't seen to me to be very helpful.

People understand that if they pick a very small high demand area, they will wait a long time.  But surely that is their look out.  Offering people houses that they are even less likely to take because it is in a location they don't want, doesn't seem helpful to me.

Wouldn't we be better to tell people how many houses there are in each area and, if possible, the turnover?  The people who can be flexible will get a better chance of a house.   But if the need is specific, then that is just the way it is.  Offering houses in the wrong place will help no-one - except perhaps a statistician, looking to reduce the length of the waiting list.

I'd like to hear your views on this.

Offshore Wind Consultation

The public are invited to view detailed plans for the offshore wind project in Aberdeen Bay

Vattenfall, Technip and Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG), the joint
venture (JV) partners behind the 11-wind turbine European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) off Aberdeen Bay – have announced dates for forthcoming public consultation events.

David Hodkinson, UK Country Manager of Vattenfall, said: “The public
information events for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre are an
important part of the formal consultation and decision making process and
they follow on from our recent submission of a consent application to
Marine Scotland. We believe we have made a strong case for the
environmental and economic benefits of the EOWDC. I would like to
encourage people to make their own judgment after viewing the information
that we will present at the events and speaking to members of the project

Consultation events take place as follows:-

29th August Peterhead, Palace Hotel 2-8pm
30th August Newburgh, Udny Arms 2-8pm
31st August Ellon, Kirk Centre 2-8pm
1st September Balmedie, Whitehorse Inn 2-8pm
2nd September Aberdeen, Doubletree Hilton (Beach) 2-8pm

EOWDC submitted an application for consent on 1 August, 2011 and the formal
consultation process ends on 16th September 2011. Any representations to
the application should be made to The Scottish Government, Marine Scotland
Licensing Operations Team no later than this date.

To find out more, please visit

March of the Menie

This March was in support of the Menie residents.

Trump's bullying them continues
  • trees planted to block the Milne's views from the escarpment
  • Milne's sent a near £3000 bill for a very cheap fence Trump erected round their property without consulting them
  • a 5m high bund built in front of the Munro's house
  • vegetation stripped in front of and behind the Munro's left as bare sand - you can imagine the effects of the sandstorm in the recent high winds.
  • Constant surveillance by Trump's goons

If you would like to know more, please contact Tripping up Trump or come and see the Scottish Premiere of feature length documentary You've been Trumped at the Belmont, Aberdeen, 7pm Friday 17th June

Energy Monitoring

I have joined the Macauley Land Use Research Institute's North East Scotland Energy Monitoring Project.  They have provided one of those nifty little devices that display current energy use and the kit to link this to the internet so that a continuous track of our electricity use and house temperature is displayed.

Part of the intent of the research is to see how energy feedback measures help households monitor and manage their energy.  I am sure the effect will wear off, but we have already learnt just how much energy different devices around the house use.  And Gordon has started to fill the kettle only half way and switch off lights.  

Meanwhile we will keep on visiting the on-line trace, slightly fascinated by the data.

Democracy fails in Aberdeenshire: Unnecessary cuts forced through

LibDem Council Leader Anne Robertson and
"opposition" SNP leader Joanna Strathdee
discussing the days business in the Council
Chamber as the meeting starts.
Aberdeenshire SNP, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors have again behaved undemocratically and dictatorially after voting to prevent debate on a proposal by my group on the Council not to make planned cuts in the budget for primary school classroom assistants and visiting specialist teachers.  

The stifling of debate prompted the entire Democratic Independent Group of councillors to walk out of today's Aberdeenshire Council full council meeting.

Rather than debate the DIGs fully costed proposals, the ConDemNats seemed to be determined to squash even discussing alternatives to cutting school assistants. Proposals to make cuts deeper were accepted with no problem. Discussion on avoiding cuts was not allowed, even through it could easily have been done.

The Council was debating setting its revenue budget for 2011/12. Cuts totalling £27 million had been voted through at the full council meeting on 25 November 2010. The Council's Liberal Democrat, Conservative and SNP councillors moved motions to increase the cut to the primary classroom assistant budget.

When Cllr Martin Ford, on behalf of the Democratic Independent Group, rose to propose that the classroom assistant budget be spared from cuts, it was ruled he could not make the proposal unless two-thirds of councillors agreed to suspend Standing Orders.

Democratic Independent Group councillors Mark Cullen, Martin Ford,
Paul Johnston, Debra Storr and Sam Coull were disgusted that the Council
refused to  even listen to their proposals to reduce damaging education cuts

Cllr Ford moved the suspension of Standing Orders, appealing to the council to allow an open and democratic debate on this important issue. Only six councillors voted to allow the issue to even be discussed.

At that point the Democratic Independent Group expressed their disgust at the councils undemocratic behaviour and walked out.

The Democratic Independent Group wanted to substitute a cut in the unadopted roads budget, which is little used, for the cut in the primary school budgets.

Commenting Cllr Martin Ford said “I am appalled at the council's refusal to allow open debate. Apparently it is perfectly acceptable to propose further cuts in classroom assistants – but seeking to stop the cuts is now allowed.  This is completely one-sided.  These school staff cuts could and should have been stopped today.

Cllr Paul Johnston said “Aberdeenshire Council sank to a new low today. They made a cut in primary education that they did not need to make. They had the money and will now not reverse their decision.”

Cllr Sam Coull added “Teaching and education in the primary schools just got a whole lot more difficult today.”