Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tuesday 15th December 09

A good day because the two plumbers came back and got the solar hot water system's tank, which has an integral immersion heater, up to 60 Celsius with the electric immersion, which they had to wire up specially as it is not actually needed for our system... and after a couple of hours, one of them came back and sorted out the valves below the boiler, so that it all works correctly.

I asked to be shown how it works. The water comes in from the 120 litre tank in the loft, which is fed by the solar panel on the roof (south-facing) at anywhere between ambient temperature and 70 or more Celsius. If it is above 60, the valve senses this and sends the water to the mixing valve (and onto the taps) which is set to about 47 degrees, which is nice and hot for baths and washing up the dishes. So, it would blend the 60 or more degree water with cold to get 47. However, this incoming water can be below 60, in which case it is sent to another mixing valve which if it is above 24 Celsius, mixes it with cold so it enters the boiler at no more than 24 degrees, which is the official maximum temperature the boiler can take it at. The boiler is then set to warm the water up to 47 degrees and it goes to the taps. If we'd have had the money and the boiler that was newly installed when we bought the house in 2001 was older and less efficient, we'd have put in a boiler which could cope with warmer incoming water, so whatever the temperature the panel got the water to, there would be no diluting it to reduce the temperature before heating it up again. Despite this being a bit of a fudge, the solar system will save us gas and logs, as putting water into the boiler at 20 degrees is better than at 10 (as it uses less gas to get it up to the preferred shower temperature) and in the summer, there will be ample hot water for evening washing up, and I won't have to light the stove just to get some dish washing water.

The most important thing, though, is that he signed the Commissioning Certificate! So we now have a fully functional Solartwin hot water system, which uses the energy in daylight to warm water so that less gas or no gas is used to give us hot water. Fantastic!

A good day too because at 10am, I had a visitor, Barry, who had advertised on Freecycle for some composting worms. I'd replied saying yes of course. He came round with his prototype wormery container, and told me his life story, and I then showed him all of my compost bins, tumblers and wormeries. He went away very happy, having taken in a lot of composting information and a tub full of worms.

In the evening I got the 5.30 train to Doncaster and then the next train to Conisbrough, where The Earth Centre is, and attended the first meeting of 'We Love The Earth Centre', a community group which aims to get this fantastic resource used, after all, it has been mostly unused for five years. I was able to contribute positively to this meeting, and there's another meeting in January.

The Earth Centre was once a coal mine, but when it closed it was just left as wasteland, but in the late 1980s, following a UN meeting which exhorted people to follow sustainable development, a group of local people had the idea of developing the site as a community resource, and John Letts and Jonathan Smales worked up the idea to have it as a demonstration of lots of sustainable design and technologies. It then got a massive amount of funding, many tens of millions, and the architects had a ball. (some photos and info here) However, the locals felt excluded, and the entry fees were set too high for the locals to be able to use it much.

By 2004 it had closed, and it's not been used for it's intended purpose of education, or by local people since then. It has been used by a war-games company, and for training soldiers and the police, and the locals generally don't like this. A couple of TV programmes have used it as a set.

So, We Love The Earth Centre started, as a reaction to the place being left to rot and be vandalised for 5 years. The site is owned by Doncaster Council who have been approached by at least one group already but their plans for a cycling theme park were not deemed good enough. About 30 people came to this first meeting, a wide range from under 30s with dreadlocks wanting to use it as a live-in eco-village, through to three of the original staff, a current caretaker, a local councillor, some assorted greens and local political activists. One person suggested it could be an open air art gallery, another wanted the adventure playground to be made accessible for local children, and another suggestion was to make some of the area between the site and Conisbrough station into a skate and BMX ramp-park. A vineyard was suggested a few years ago but rejected as it didn't create enough jobs. The cafe is apparently still in working order, and that is seen as a source of income. One person suggested building an Earthship. Someone else liked the idea of fishponds, for recreation (angling) and I mentioned the Able Project where horse bedding is put in worm-beds and the resultant worms are fed to farmed fish for human consumption, which I see as slightly more valuable than fishing and throwing them back with damaged mouths. One person reminded us that the canalised River Don is navigable, and a marina could be built. So no lack of ideas or enthusiasm!

When the meeting wound down, I walked back to Conisbrough station to get the train to Sheffield. At one of the stations near Sheffield, a young woman tried to get off the train but was pressing the button on the wrong side of the train, the door away from the platform. As the door wouldn't open, she panicked a bit and shouted into the carriage 'How do I get the door open?' I told her to try the door on the platform side, but the train had already got ready to go, and the door wouldn't open. As the train started to move off, she ran down the carriage to the drivers cab and banged on the door and shouted for the train to stop, which it did. She was able to get off after a minute... very lucky. This caused a bit of a ripple within the carriage and one chap said that there would be an enquiry as every minute's delay cost the network £1000.. he worked for Network Rail and knew these things. We got chatting and I told him about my taking my circus show around the country by train, and he was intrigued. Turns out he has a son who's got a birthday party soon, and he made a provisional booking with me to come to Doncaster and do the party. I'll be amazed if this happens, but I hope so!

I got to Sheffield without a hitch, and the tram, and got to Ali's at about 11pm. I'd agreed to go over on Wednesday some while ago, and the co-incidental nearby meeting on the Tuesday night fitted well with this plan.

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