10 August 2022

Learning how to build a small wind turbine, part I

Years ago, I had read an article in the Guardian about short courses you could do around the UK. I hadn't been looking for anything, but I tend to read the newspaper cover to cover (except the sports section) so I read that too. And there was one course that really grabbed my attention. It was "building a tiny house" at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. I hadn't heard of that place back then, but it did plant something in my brain. And doing that course didn't quite fit with my life at the time, but I never forgot about it.

When I had a summer ahead of me and no plans of going seriously abroad, I pondered what I would do with it. And one of the things I thought of was doing an interesting course. So I headed for the CAT website. And there I found the course "build a small wind turbine". And that sounded fab! I quickly texted Kate to see if she would be interested as well. She was, but she didn't anticipate being in the country at the time. So I registered on my own.

I really like renewable energy! I was already on the path to getting solar power, but that only works during the day, and the wind might also blow at night. I didn't think I would generate very much with a wind turbine, but at least more than nothing. And it would be an interesting skill to learn. So I looked forward to it! And then the day came.

I drove down in the electric car of Partneriaeth Ogwen, and checked in. It was a weekend course so a room was included. The room looked nice! So I got rid of my big bag, took my small bag with things such as a notebook and a water bladder, and went back down to reception. There were some 10 people sitting there silently. I joined them and started conversation with some random people. I figured we had something to talk about: our desire for wind energy! And I was right. But then the instructors appeared and took us to a lecture room. The instructors were Tom, who led the course, and who had done that 71 times before, and Esther, who was less into construction and more into placement.

My room

We also need a little round of introductions. Some people had much more concrete plans of what to do with this course than others! One man was already living off grid, but he mainly relied on solar, and that can be an issue in winter. One man had inherited the  ancestral farm on the Irish west coast. One man had come all the way from Belize. One lady wanted to start an off grid sort of communal living project. Et cetera!

I liked the little theoretical lecture. Tom explained why are blades needs to have the shape it has, and why you would put six coils opposite eight magnets. And he explained what sort of electronic ware you need to have between your turbine and whatever you want to power with it. That sort of thing! I learned a lot. And then we started working. Tom and Esther took us to a beautiful barn on the amazing terrain of CAT. I really liked the place! I already decided I want to come back.

What we started on were the blades. We subdivided ourselves into groups of two, and started on a blade per group. Blocks of wood in the correct size were provided. Tom had said that in the end, they would just pick the three blades that were the most similar to each other, and make them into our final product. I thought it would be an enormous amount of work, but we had to go tools and it was a lot quicker than I had thought! I especially liked the draw knives.

Starting on the blade. Pic by Sheridan

I had teamed up with a lady called Sheridan. And while working together we also just got to know each other. 

From time to time, Tom dragged people out of their work on the blades to have them make coils. The course had a custom-made coil making device, and it took three people to work it. We made our two coils! And then it was time for lunch.

At CAT, do you get fed well! And I suspect they had grown most of the food we ate. All of it was vegetarian. Vegan options were also provided. I think they know who they are and what audience they attract!

After lunch we had to solder in the coils together in the right configuration, and cast them in resin. Tom was very apologetic about the resin. It is hydrocarbon based, and can't be recycled. But it is difficult to avoid! We also incorporated some glass fibre for tensile strength.

Finished coils in the mould for the resin

ChristmasWhen we had cast it all it was time to stop. There was about an hour until dinner time. Esther mentioned a pub not far away, but Google Maps indicated it was about a 30 minute walk, so going before dinner made no sense. I just retreated to my room to have some time on my own. And after dinner I went for a run. I had decided I could do that first, and then join the others in the pub.

I had no map and very little internet signal, so I was running largely blind. I first went around random paths in the quarry where the centre is located. But after a while I saw a cut in the hillside not too far away. That looked like a bigger track, going somewhere. I made a beeline to it and indeed, it was a fine agricultural road to run on! And it went to a big wind turbine. On the top of the hill I had much better internet signal, so then I could see on satellite imagery that the track looped back to the Centre. Surely it was used by vehicles used for wind turbine maintenance. So I continued! Unfortunately, the quality of the track went downhill rapidly, and soon I found myself confronted with an impenetrable tangle of ferns and brambles. I gave up! And just retraced my steps. That way I had to run a lot longer than I had intended, but I really didn't want to have to wrestle through such hostile vegetation over a considerable distance.

Run views

Time to turn around 

I got home, had a shower, and hot-tailed it to the pub. There was a nice group of some six people there! And they were still having a good time so I just joined in. When it got quite dark we walked back. One interesting day done! And would we manage to have the turbine ready the next day by the close of day? Stay tuned!

09 August 2022

Road trip to Machynlleth

When I booked my trip to Machynlleth for a weekend course at the Centre for Sustainable Technology (next post for more details), I briefly pondered the logistics. I had to be on location at 9:30. They offered me a night before the course on site for a reasonable fee, but I figured it would be nicer to have a night in my tent. And the weather forecast was good! So I stuck with my idea. I hadn't done a night in my tent since the windy and rainy night above Mynydd Llandygai. I couldn't leave particularly early as I was seeing Jenny, my Welsh tutor, at six, but it was still doable.

So that was accommodation sorted. What about transport? That Wednesday I had been accepted on the co wheels scheme. Could I take the communal electric vehicle for that trip? And surprisingly, it was not booked! So I quickly booked it. I had had a little test drive on Thursday, so I figured I was ready for taking it on a long drive on Friday. This was going to be on a completely different scale from having a few minutes of driving around!

When I had got home, eaten something, cuddled the cat, watered the plants and packed my last items, I carried all my stuff to the library. I put it in the boot and off I was! 

The drive down was very comfortable and the evening was beautiful. I had initially considered sleeping in Aberllefenni, but I had left a bit later than intended, and it would be pitch dark by the time I would get there. So where sleep then? I considered Tanygrisiau, but I didn't know of any good place to sleep close to the road. I didn't want to have to walk a considerable distance into the hills! And I checked two rivers outside Blaenau Ffestiniog, but I didn't spot good locations for my tent. I decided to keep on going to Trawsfynydd. I knew you could camp by the lake! And I wouldn't drink from the lake, but I had enough water with me. The lake would be for washing. And I didn't have my map with me (I don't have a map of mid Wales and I hadn't intended to sleep this far north) so I had to just try out different little roads leading in the direction of the lake. The third one was a hit! There was a parking lot right by the lake there. On the other side of the dam were some excellent tent pitches. I settled for it. And I had to be quick; there wasn't much daylight left. I pitched the tent and then had a little dip in the lake. The evening sky was beautifully pink, there were some loud geese around, and it was idyllic. After my little swim I felt revived! And then I just drank some tea and went to bed.

My evening view

Having drunk tea that late I woke up in the middle of the night to go for a leak. The Milky Way was beautifully stretched overhead!

The next morning the lake was producing gorgeous morning mist. It was lovely to look at it while having my breakfast. I was so glad I had made this decision! 

My home in the morning

Scenic morning mist

Car patiently waiting for me

When my breakfast was finished I packed up and left. I briefly stopped in Dolgellau to buy a Saturday newspaper but otherwise I just steamed ahead to Machynlleth. 

When I got to my destination I still had plenty of charge in the battery to make it back. I knew the site had its own charging point, but I didn't even need it. No range anxiety here!

I would like to come back to where I did the course. And I certainly want to come back in the electric vehicle. It wasn't very expensive, and the feelgood factor was sky high. And it is a pleasant car to spend time in. What's not to like!

08 August 2022

Solar panels working!

I had had solar panels on my roof since early June. But because of communication issues, they did not work. They would only work once I would get the additional array of five panels on the flat roof. So now what?

I discussed this with the company that had had them installed. And when they finally agreed to just phone  me rather than exchange aggressive emails, I told them that I hoped to have the west facade re-rendered in only a few weeks’ time. The company had offered to exchange my big inverter for two separate inverters; one for the array of six and one for the array of five. Then the setup would just work both before and after the installation of the last panels. But with the path hopefully clear for everything to be finished within weeks, I suggested they hold their horses. On the condition that the renderer would actually show up and do the work.

The renderer was as good as his word! So we proceeded with the plan. And on Wednesday August 3rd I should get my final panels. That also gave me time to paint the wall. There was still a small spanner in the work; something had not been delivered, and it turned into the day after. But then they really came!

Given they only had to install some panels on an accessible roof, the men were done in a few hours. And then they were done! I quickly had a look at my electricity meter; indeed, it now ran backwards. I should have had a smart meter, of course, but the energy company had not been forthcoming.

Coffee break

When I had a look at what the installers had done I noticed there were six panels there, rather than the agreed five. I liked that; they had basically forced changes to the contract on me that were in my disadvantage, and now they had suddenly made a change in my advantage. Maybe that would cancel out!

The next day the company phoned. Was everything okay? And they said they had indeed delivered six panels by way of an apology. And I accepted that. I had calculated how much I had paid for my electricity since the panels had been installed, how far along their period of writing off the panels have got in the meantime, and how much I wanted to charge for the time they had made me waste. That boiled out to the same value as this sixth panel. It meant that the cost of having the installers come twice fell on me, but at least the relationship with the company was okay again. So we closed that case!

The next day when I came home from work I checked how much I seem to have generated. My electricity meter was 28 KWh less than it had been when the installers had left! This was going fast. It was totally evident my next electricity meter reading would be less than the previous one. Maybe that would kick the electricity company into action.

The weekend after getting my solar power I was away, but after that I could start adapting my life to this new power source! Do the laundry during the day rather than during the night; boiling water and putting it in my big flasks before the sun sets so I can do the rest of the day with hot beverages that have been produced sustainability, and so on. I'll try to do as much as I can with the power from the sun! Let's see how far I get!

07 August 2022

Trying out the electric car share scheme

I am not sure if I was aware of the electric car in the village before this spring's citizens assembly about climate and sustainability. But I am absolutely sure I knew from then on! And I figured I should get myself on the scheme. The idea is that there is an electric car parked by the library, and if you become a member of the organisation that runs it, you can just book it out for whenever you need it (if no one else beat you to it, of course). You pay for it, but it didn't seem prohibitively expensive. And the car is charged by the solar panels on the roof of the library, so if you drive it, you drive carbon neutral. Yes I know, the manufacture of the car was not carbon neutral, but the driving is. And as this car is available to the entire community, you don't need to manufacture many cars to serve a lot of people! 

Registering didn't immediately float to the top of my to-do list, but it got there in the end. I registered online; that was easy enough. Then I had to counter an email from the organisation under whose umbrella the scheme runs: Co-Wheels; they erroneously assumed that my EEA driving licence is only valid in the UK for a year. But when I corrected them they did not further complain. I had my license officially verified at the post office, and soon after that I received the starter pack in the mail. The most important part of that was the card with which you unlock the car. There also was a brief instruction of how the scheme works. Basically, I was set!

I was a bit nervous about driving an electric car; I have never driven anything like it. And I remember the first few times I drove an automatic. It took me some getting used to! So I wanted to give it a test ride. I couldn't book it for that very afternoon, so I booked it for early morning the day after. And beforehand I googled an instruction video. The Co-Wheels websites did provide instruction PDFs, but just a video of someone actually driving it helped. It looked simple!

The next morning I got to the car bright and early. And it just works! You swipe your card over the reader and the car unlocks. Then you just unplug it from the charging point and off you are! It drives pretty much like any automatic. It was quite responsive, though; if you put your foot down something happens.

The car where it lives

I just took it for a loop around Mynydd Llandygai. And then I brought it back. I was confident! So I booked it for my upcoming trip to mid Wales. I would have liked to go climbing with this thing, but that was on a bit too short notice. But if I take it to mid Wales, I save quite a lot of emissions! It will be more expensive than driving my little Corsa, but that is not what it is about. I will feel really good about travelling sustainably!

Test ride

I fully intend to use this car a lot more often! Keep an eye out for it on this blog…

06 August 2022

Kate joins the climbing

I had climbed the previous week, for the first time in the season. I had only just made it! But I had. And the week after I hoped the climb again. And I did!

Kate had indicated she was keen on starting outdoor climbing again, and liked the sound of our club. So I kept her posted. And she was available! And the venue this week would be Penmaenbach.

I picked up Charlotte and drove to Sychnant Pass. Most of the way, we were driving right behind Eifion. And on the parking lot we met Kate. And through the beautiful evening we walked to the venue!

Walking in (the venue is the platform in the background)

I was still finding my feet and so was Kate, so I suggest we start with the easiest route the venue has to offer: Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. I led it and Kate followed. I didn't think Charlotte and Eifion would be interested, so we could de-rig. I chose to do that myself, so I have to climb the route again. And then we had a look at what the others were doing. They were on Trad Police, and didn't recommend it. I have never the route, so I was intrigued anyway. I decided to give it a go. And I bailed out. My confidence levels are not very good yet! But that meant there was a quickdraw halfway up the route. What to do with that? I figured we could just go to the top of Easy Peasy carrying the second rope, and abseil from there to the top of Trad Police, and then rig it as a top rope. We hesitated as it started raining, but Charlotte had put carabiners in the top of the route again, and these needed to be retrieved anyway. And we had little to lose by bringing the other rope up, so I just climbed Easy Peasy for a third time, this time with a tail. And the rain stopped! So I rigged the other route. And then we could climb it again!

Group pic

Climbing buddies selfie

Kate managed it climbing a bit to the right of the bolts, and then I did the same thing. But I was keen to also try it to the left of the bolts. And there was time so I did. The route is entirely different then! But by then the sun was getting low and we had to get back, so we packed up all our gear and headed back to the cars. Charlotte got a bit uncomfortable in one of her muscles but we got there. 

Evening light

View from the car park

I consider that a successful evening! Hopefully a few more will follow before the season is over! And I hope Kate will join for real!

05 August 2022

Back to foraminifera analysis

If you have been in the field, the next step is to hit the lab! After the two days in the field with my master student, it was time to first sieve out the samples, and then get to the important part: foraminifera analysis.

We didn't have an exhaustive number of samples, so it didn't take Alexander very long to sieve them and dry them. And then the real work started! I brought out the equipment, and the reference collection, and my Cushman reference book. And the handout the third year students get during our estuary fieldwork. There are some 40,000 species of benthic foraminifera; that is bit of an intimidating number. I'm not quite sure how many species the Cushman book has, but still more than is practical if you are only starting out. So I figured the handout with only some 20 species would be a good start!

My reference collection

I suggested he started in the sand. These samples are always quite clean, regardless of whether you were sufficiently patient while sieving. They also tend to have a nice assemblage. So a good place to start!

When he had picked his sample I had a look. Not spectacular, but nice enough! He had a beautiful Lagena, which looks like a miniature glass vase (you don't get these in the high marsh), and some gorgeous Elphidiums. And, of course, a whole bunch of not very pretty clunky Ammonia. You can't avoid these! 

I'm curious to see what else we will find. But it is was nice to look at forums again! And let's hope the entire project yields interesting results…


04 August 2022

Improvising my way back to podcasts

I had been bit late to the game of listening to podcasts on my phone. But it can be really nice! For instance, sometimes I need to drive a considerable distance, and radio reception can be a bit patchy here in North Wales. Additionally; my car doesn't receive many stations, and sometimes not one of them has anything interesting on. So then a podcast and earphones are ideal!

When I went on my way to Guy and Kate I fully intended to listen to a good podcast, but that was thwarted by equipment failure. I suspected a faulty wire. I had to make do with my own thoughts! But I didn't want that to last. When I had established I did not have some compatible spare pair lying around, I first thought of just buying a new set of earplugs. But I came across a small adapter that allows you to plug earphones with a round jack into an iPhone. I thought that was a much better idea! I knew I still had the earplugs of my unloved Samsung lying around, and I could use these with that jack. And I also have a pair of bone conduction headphones, also with a round jack. So that tiny little adapter could give me lots of new opportunities! So I ordered it.

It works! I can now listen to my iPhone on the Samsung earplugs. And soon as I have retrieved my bone conduction headphones (I think they are in my office) I can hopefully use these again too! These are much better for car journeys; you can still hear the world outside you. Although driving is something you largely do by eye. Long car journeys, here I come!

03 August 2022

Catching up with Guy and Kate

An unpractically large percentage of my friends are called Kate. There are the two Kates in Penmachno, and then there is the Kate who is married to Guy, and who has resulted in me having a cat. I hadn't seen her since the year before! I was supposed to have seen her on New Year's Eve but she bailed out. But she had indicated she was up for some social contact in the summer. And we had picked a weekend for it! And it came.

She hadn't seen the cat since the fluffy creature had moved in with me, so I sort of expected her to want to come over to my place. But that wasn't the case! They invited me over to theirs. And I love their place, but I was just a bit surprised. There are people who would not let any opportunity slip to cuddle the cat!

The plan was that I would come over, we would walk the dogs, then have afternoon tea, and then I would go home again. And I must admit that I just assumed I would drive. Only when my car had to go to the garage I did check the bus; there was even an excellent bus going there! Unfortunately, there was no suitable bus to take me back. But next time I go there I will certainly check if I can use public transport that time.

I got there and saw Guy and Pi outside from a distance. When Pi could get to me, he immediately planted his muddy feet on my trousers! As I write this, the prints are still there. We went inside and met Kate and Indy. Indy seems to think I am the bee's knees, so she immediately proceeded to stick her nose into my face. We all had a slice of fruit loaf and then we set off. They had discovered a beautiful path some distance away. And beautiful it was! It was lonely moorland in atmospheric mist. But I still had to also see Martin, Sue, and Dean later that day, so we had to abort the walk. We all decided we should do the full loop the next time I go there! In hindsight, it might have been better to walk just from the front door, but hey ho.

Back at the house we had that afternoon tea. It was all in 70s style! And it was lovely. Indy insisted on sitting on the bench with me. Lovely but silly little dog.

Then it was already time to go home! It had been good. And I look for to finishing that loop next time. 

Dog walking


With Indy on the bench

02 August 2022

Redirecting confused tourists

When I see confused people in my street, I am almost certain that what has happened is that they are tourists who have booked a B&B nearby, and who can't find it. I tend to approach them to verify this, and then redirect them to where they want to be. One day I checked what happens if you give the address of the B&B into Google Maps, and indeed; it doesn't recognise it. So then they end up in my street, which is an entirely different street, but with a similar name. And then they are looking for number 14. My street only has four houses in it: numbers 12 to 15. (Numbers 1 to 11 have been demolished.) Numbers 14 and 15 do not carry house numbers, so hence that the tourists often end up in front of my door. I had been of a mind to put up a sign saying: are you looking for this B&B? It is not here! And then explain where it actually is. But it had always dropped off the end of my to do list. Until one night when I was woken up by two tourists in front of my door. They were indeed looking for the B&B. And that was the kick in the bum I needed. The next day I made a sign and stuck it to my front door! I hope that means I will now never have to come out of the house again (or lean out of the window) to explain what they are looking for. Watch this space!

01 August 2022

Fieldwork in the Cefni estuary

After the fieldwork in the Dee history, it was time to visit its counterpart: the Cefni. That was more relaxed! I know the estuary, and it is not very far away. Low tide was quite late in the day, so I didn't pick up Alexander until 3 pm.

When we got to the parking spot, we changed into our mud shoes and headed for where Alexander had decided we should go into the actual field. There was no path there; there isn't much in the way of paths. So it started a bit awkward, as usual; hostile vegetation, treacherous dents in the underground that were difficult to spot under said vegetation, overenthusiastic insects, et cetera. We also noticed we were in a vegetation zone we had not encountered in the Dee. And that the elevation was a lot lower here. No direct comparison would be possible! But that's fine; we can deal with that. We took a sample anyway.

The high marsh

Soon we were in a much more comfortable part of the marsh, with much lower vegetation and much more even ground. And we did find vegetation zones that were quite similar to what we had seen before. So things weren't looking so bad! And the marsh was quite beautiful. So was the weather! 

Lower down in the marsh

Beautiful red sandy channel

Wider channel with school of fish passing

As this marsh is a lot smaller, we reached the low marsh  and then the sand flat quite soon. And once we were there, things got more comfortable still. The sampling is easy, the walking is easy, the insects are a lot less abundant. I suggested we walk back towards the parking lot over the sand, and Alexander agreed.

Reliably photogenic samphire

We walked back while discussing politics. And by the time we got back to the car we had only spent three hours in total. Not bad!

Dramatic skies

There was a bit of logistics to deal with still; we drove back to Ocean Sciences, transferred the data from the GPS to my laptop, put the GPS back where it belongs, deposited the samples in the fridge, and gave back the keys of the Hilux. Then we were done. I gave Alexander a lift to main campus in my own car; he was very scrunched up as because of my logistic challenges earlier in the week, my bike was in the back. Additionally, I had filled up the rest of the boot with my bags, so poor Alexander had to fit (with his own bag and all) on the passenger's seat. It didn't look comfortable, but it did save him having to walk home. And I decidedly preferred that over having to drive to Bangor in the Hilux, then back to Menai Bridge, and then back to Bethesda past Bangor in my own car!

I was home just before 8 PM. And the next day we would make a start with foraminifera analysis! Exciting stuff!