Saturday 28 December 2013

Sauce Jars - Life After Dinner

Due to my limited culinary skills, I acquire many home cooking sauce jars. Just for fun I decided to re-purpose a few.

This 'lamp shade' was made by removing the bottom of the jar with a diamond cutter wheel on my Dremal then cutting a hole in the lid for the light fitting.

Cutting the glass was quite straight forward but you do need to take care. If you want to do this you MUST wear safety glasses. Tiny slithers of glass flying into your face remind you how delicate your eyes are.

 I bought a diamond cutting set for about £5 for an independant DIY shop (the best places for this sort of thing). I wrapped some gaffer tape around the jar first to prevent shattering and provide a nice guide line.

A couple of passes with the diamond cutter and the bottom just falls of. Easy!

I then smoothed the edge down with an abrasive drum.

Then a final sanding by hand with some fine grit paper. All done.

I have made two lamp shades for the hallway at home and a pen jar for my desk at work. I'm now thinking of what else can give these jars a life after Dolmio.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Missile Switch KVM

Just a quick post to show off my latest project.
I have to switch between four computers on my desk at work and have been recently frustrated by the flimsy plastic push buttons on my two KVM switches. 

Through a combination of spares in the shed and a visit to Maplin I came up with this extremely rugged and awesome looking alternative.

It's just two SPST toggle switches and missile switch covers. I don't use my KVMs for switching monitors, just the keyboard and mouse.
Momentary switches would have been better but I couldn't find any suitable. 

This config does the job and does look pretty damn cool. I've now challenged the rest of the office to come up more over engineered solutions....

Friday 1 November 2013

A Longer Leaf Journey

A few weeks back we decided to brave a journey that exceeded the normal range of the Nissan Leaf. I was looking for an opportunity to try out the public charging points available and this seemed as good a time as any.

The plan was to meet some friends at Polesden Lacey in Surrey. This would mean a return journey of 87 miles, which is just nipping at the heels of the maximum range of the car, so a re-charge at some point would certainly make things more comfortable.
A bit of pre-planning was required. I found two potential charging points on the route:

View Larger Map
So we set off with a full charge in the battery. Today this gave me 90 miles, showing that the capacity of the battery can be determined by some outside factors such as temperature, charge time etc. I thought it would be a good idea to drop into Fleet services on the way to top up.

The rapid charge points allow access via an RFID card which needs to obtained via the Ecotricity website. The card is currently free of charge. You simply drive up to the charging point, swipe your card and plug in. Another Leaf owner pulled up beside me and we enjoyed a couple of minutes chatting about our awesome cars, something you wouldn't do at a petrol pump, it's like being in a cool friendly club.

Here I learned a downside to the rapid charge points - They only allow the battery to be charged to 80%. This, I understand, is for safety reasons. the charger is throwing down DC current in excess of 100Amps whch can easily lead to a battery getting hot if allowed to charge for longer than 20 minutes.
I was at about 78% when I arrived so I only gained an extra few miles. Nevermind, on we go....

We arrived at Polesden Lacey with 35 Miles left on the range. I did ask the staff if there was anywhere I could plug in but no. Maybe something the National Trust should be considering???

It was about 30 miles back to Fleet services but only about 5 to RHS Wisley. We made the decision to go home via Wisley and grab an hour on the charger while visiting the fine garden centre and café.

Unfortunately the charging points in the car park were down. I spoke to the very helpful staff but despite best efforts the Chargemaster points were not playing. However, as a result we were allowed to plug in through a barn door in the service yard. Lucky for us otherwise we may not have made it home.
The only downside was that this was a standard 3-pin 13 amp domestic socket, this being the slowest method of charging the car, so we only gained an extra 10 miles after an hours loitering around the garden centre.

Plugged in at RHS Wisley

On the way to Fleet services I saw, for the first time, a low battery warning in the car, meaning there was only 12 miles left, luckily we were only 5 miles from the next charger and rolled in with a few miles to spare.
Now this is where the rapid chargers come into their own, we plugged in and went inside for a cup of tea.
I was monitoring the battery in the car via the Nissan App on my phone and after about 15 minutes it told me that the car was now 80% charged with 74 miles on the range. We hadn't even finished our tea.

The Ecotricity Charger at Fleet Services on M3

Obviously we then made it home easily. Now, this may all seem like a bit of a faff with the three stops and mild anxiety but to be honest it made the day more fun if anything, a little more adventure. We also would never have visted RHS Wisley which was well worth it (Mrs Colin was particularly pleased with the baby changing facilities). Most of all, not a penny was spent on fuel.

Still loving the Leaf....!!

Monday 2 September 2013

Cigarette Tin Solar Phone Charger

Here's a little project I put together to save charging my phone through the wall sockets. Taking the excellent Adafruit MintyBoost kit, adding a solar panel and putting the lot in a nice old tin I think I've made something pretty good.

So the main materials used here are:

  • Adafruit MintyBoost V3.0
  • 6v solar panel (eBay)
  • 4 x AA rechargeable batteries + holder
  • cigarette tin

The tin I picked up in an antique shop in Hastings, a bit of a task to find the right thing but worth it. It definitely keeps with the 'upcycling' ethos.

The MintyBoost kit comes with a 2xAA battery holder and recommends only 2 batteries. I'm using rechargeables which put out a lower voltage than normal AAs, so I need 4 to get the power required to charge a phone effectively.

Since the tin is metal I had to glue a sheet of plastic to the top to prevent the solar panel from shorting out.

The next job was to make a hole for the USB socket. I used a router bit on my Dremel to do this. 

After building the MintyBoost (guides can be found on the Adafruit website) I fixed it into the tin using a piece of scrap plastic and epoxy glue. I made sure the kit worked before gluing it in, of course....

The solar panel is then glued to the plastic on the top of tin, after drilling a couple of holes in the lid for the wires. More epoxy glue used here with a couple of spring clamps whilst drying.

After gluing the battery holder in place it's time to wire up the innards. A schottky diode is required on the positive feed from the solar panel in order to pull current down to the batteries. Excuse my ropey soldering, I like the grungy look.

The negative rail is grounded out to the tin with a bit of solder and I isolated the diode with an old bit of mains cable sleeving.

All done and ready for a sunbathe to charge those batteries up.

After a couple of hours in the sun the tin is now charging my phone perfectly! So my plan is to leave the tin in the conservatory by day and top up the phone in the evening. So far it's doing just that. Brilliant!

Sunday 28 July 2013

I've Gone Electric - My Nissan Leaf

A significant change in my circumstances recently presented the need to buy a second car. I already owned a reasonably economical car, that being a Volvo C30 DriveE 1.6 Diesel. Not bad eco credentials with low CO2 emissions, stop/start engine and all that.

So I was initially prepared and budgeted to buy another diesel, second hand, to take care of my daily commute to work, a 40 mile round trip. After a bit of autotrader surfing and hunting I was a bit dismayed by the second hand car market and decided to rethink my approach.

Thinking back to our Honeymoon in Japan, I remembered the large number of electric vehicles buzzing around Tokyo and noticing what a nicer environment it was, so I decided to look further into getting an EV. Partly helped along to way by Robert Llewellyn, a champion of such things, I decided to go for the 100% electric Nissan Leaf.

Obviously, I've met a few raised eyebrows. Let me assure you that this is an excellent car and I am in no doubt EVs are the future of motoring. Just a few points to drop the haters into the idiot bin:
  • it does 0-60mph in under 7 seconds
  • it does over 100 miles on a single charge
  • it takes 4 hours to fully charge at my house or 30 mins to 80% at a rapid charge point
  • zero CO2 emissions means zero road tax
  • on my electricity tariff it costs less than a pound to fully charge (100 miles on a quid!?)
  • it costs about £100 in insurance for me and the wife, fully comp for a year
  • it looks like a normal car with five doors and a massive boot
  • it's got really cool in-car tech; sat-nav, bluetooth, internet telematics and a phone app
Luckily, most people I associate with are very like minded and have shown a real interest, so I wanted to get some of my thoughts on the car on here. Mainly to respond to the questions people have asked me.

I've had a couple of fools next to me on the line at the lights. It's normally BMW drivers that tend to rev up. Every one so far has disappeared into my rear view mirror never to be seen. 0-60 in 7sec is comparable to most two-seater sports cars. Plus, the Leaf launches from the line in near silence. Anyone who has been in my Leaf so far has been thoroughly impressed with the take up. The high torque of the electric motor doesn't appear to be affected by heavy loads either.

An 8kW charging point was fitted to the front of my house provided free of charge, thanks to a government subsidy. Wired directly to my consumer unit on a dedicated circuit, the unit is capable of fully charging the Leaf in 4 hours. It is recommended to charge the batteries to 80% to prolong battery life which the built in charge timer enables very easily. A full charge has so far given me a range of just over 100 miles.
The range and battery indicator on the dash

There are various charging points all over the UK and new ones popping up all the time. I haven't had to need to use one yet, as my 40 mile round trip to work is well within the range of a single 80% charge. I've not embarked on a longer journey as yet but certainly plan to in the near future. 

The company that fitted my charging point also provide public charging points all over the place. Also the Leaf's sat-nav has a charging point locater which is updated daily via GPRS from within the car. If you enter a route into the sat-nav it can take you via a charging point if needed.

The Leaf also comes with a cable for charging from a domestic 3 pin plug stored nicely in the boot. This is probably the slowest way to charge (8 hours to a full battery).

As this blog is all about being green in the real world it is worth mentioning that the Leaf is still a functional family car with five doors and a massive boot for shopping, prams etc.
The little chap fitting nicely on the back seat using ISOFIX child seat fittings
You can't get greener. Some idiots believe that electric cars are not actually greener because the manufacturing process uses more CO2 than that for petrol/diesels. This may be the case but once the Leaf is built, that's it. A petrol car continues to produce CO2 for it's whole life, not only from what it burns but through the supply chain of getting fuel into your car. Pumping up the oil, moving it to a refinery, moving the fuel to a petrol station. Then you pay over the odds, due to massive fuel taxes.

The Leaf uses electricity which needs to be generated by a power station, but the energy generated for the national grid uses increasingly greener methods all the time. Wind farms, hydro etc plus the efficiency of converting fossil fuel to energy is far higher in a power station than a car engine.

On top of all this, the Nissan Leaf is manufactured in the UK so a smaller carbon footprint. Here's a good blog post from Robert Llewellyn that nails it.

Battery Life
The Lithium Ion batteries used by the Leaf do have a life, i.e. they will die some day (a bit like a clutch or a gearbox really). Although this is a concern for EV owners I still haven't actually heard of it happening and owners are now getting over 50k miles without any battery issues. However, Nissan have the option of leasing the battery for about £70 a month. So if it 'dies' you can just swap it out.

I am leasing the whole car for three years, so I won't have to worry as everything is covered by the warranty during this period and then I'll either give it back or get a new one. Currently the car costs £250 a month. This is about the same I would have paid for diesel every month, so it really makes no odds to me financially, in fact it's nearly a free car.

Not many to be honest but it is a different approach to motoring. It's best not to compare an EV to your gas car, more an alternative solution to getting around, like your pushbike. Just because you can't do 60mph on your bicycle doesn't mean you're not going to buy one, does it?

The range is the obvious one. So far I have achieved a range of 101 miles on a single charge. So if you want to go further you'll need to stop at a charging point for half an hour or more (time for a coffee). The amount of charging points in the UK is limited but they increasing all the time. Apparently most car owners don't do more than 50 miles in one trip anyway. Most people I know who own a car only use it for shopping or commuting. I will still have my other car for those longer journeys.

It's needs charge to go. If I've been out for the day in the Leaf it will need time to recharge, so an emergency journey is not possible if the battery is low. Again, keeping the Volvo for that one.

You need a driveway or garage to charge it. There's no way you will get away with trailing the charging lead over a footpath if you only have on-street parking at home. That's a trip hazard and legal claim waiting to happen. The only way around this would be more public rapid charging points, in time....

The interior of my Leaf, plenty of buttons and lights.
I'll update the blog as and when I encounter issues with the Leaf, along with how I get on with the public charging points. I'll also let you know how it goes when I am brave enough to embark on a journey exceeding the range. 

For now, I am feeling pretty positive about my choice of motor and will continue to enjoy beating boy racers off the line in my silent rocket. 

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Being green in the real world.

A famous frog once said "It isn't easy being green". 

The philosopher Kermit wasn't referring to the current eco-trendy fashion movement, but was in no doubt that such wise words would resonate with generations to follow.

Being green in current times is easier than ever, but not without it's challenges. Only idiots argue that climate change is not happening and humans are not actively harming our planet. Just 15 minutes locked in your garage with the car engine running should be evidence enough, but still they remain unconvinced that the billions of cars spewing the same gasses that kill a human in minutes across the world is fine and groovy.

It aint fine and groovy. So rather than doing nothing like these idiots I plan to do something. It won't be world saving stuff but it may inspire you to do the same, which may inspire someone else and so on and so forth. 

This blog will document my efforts towards living a greener, more eco friendly life. A normal life in which I work full time, earn an average wage and soon become a Dad. 

Next post I'll talk more about my new car. A 100% electric Nissan Leaf

It's awesome...