Thursday, 17th December, 2009

The Incredible RepRap 3D Printer – a Glimpse of the Future?

Have you ever wished that you could make that plastic the mendel 3d printerbookcase shelf support that nobody seems to have in stock, or that bracket that holds the underside of your chair together? You can now build a machine which will print objects that you need.

Adrian Bowyer and his team at Bath University have developed Mendel, a relatively cheap device that you can build yourself for about 350 euros. Mendel, in turn, can be programmed with instructions to form a whole range of 3D parts in plastic. Examples of these are a pair of child’s sandals, a door handle, a coat hook and a cocktail glass.

Even more intriguingly, Mendel can manufacture about 50% of the parts required to make a second Mendel, and the design team’s goal is to improve this ratio. Ideally, one day, a Mendel (or its successor models) might be able to make a complete clone of itself.

We might see a world one day where manufacturing small scale items is done at home by replicator machines, and where this kind of work becomes once again a home-based process rather than one conducted in vast mills and factories.

“[RepRap] has been called the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment…”– The front page of The Guardian, November 25, 2006.



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Friday, 2nd October, 2009

How to get 100% renewable electricity for your home

Wind turbine photo by g-hatWind turbine photo by g-hat

Don’t buy the green claims made by big power companies? Here are some tips to help you choose a 100% renewable electricity supplier. Switching to a green electricity tariff regularly makes those lists of ten things you can do to save the planet. So what’s involved?

What does renewable electricity really mean?

Buying 100% renewable electricity means you get power that’s generated only from sources like wind, solar, waves, tides or even biomass — and not from coal, gas or oil. Of course, the national grid means all the electricity in the UK comes from one pot — the watts my computer is using now could be from any fuel. But different suppliers contribute different types of electricity to the overall fuel mix. So you can choose to give your hard-earned cash to a company that doesn’t use any fossil fuels at all.

Where do I start?

First up, visit a comparison site like Green Electricity Marketplace armed with a recent electricity bill. Several of the major comparison sites, including uSwitch, also have an option to compare green tariffs. Green Electricity Marketplace is great because it explains the pros and cons of the different renewable tariffs, as well as just showing you the prices. It also comes recommended by Friends of the Earth. Once you’ve put in your usage and postcode, the site should give you options to choose from.

Choosing the right tariff

The only way to be sure you’re getting 100% renewable electricity is to opt for a company that doesn’t generate anything else. At this point things get a little technical, because it helps to know a bit about how the energy market in the UK works, but Ludamus readers should be up to the challenge.

The UK government is aiming for 15% of all electricity to come from renewables by 2020. To encourage this, it gives out things called ROCs — Renewables Obligations Certificates to companies that generate renewable electricity. Each year, every power company has to end up with enough ROCs to cover their share of the government’s renewables target. So if you own a huge coal-fired power station, then to meet your target, you have to buy ROCs from a company that owns a wind farm and has some spare. 

Some companies don’t sell all of their spare ROCs — they "retire" them instead. I wanted to buy electricity from a company that doesn’t use any fossil fuels, and which also retires some ROCs. I only found one company that could supply my home office and meet these requirements: Good Energy. I also love the way they encourage you to generate electricity at home, if you can. But another supplier might suit you best.

Whatever you do, just make sure it’s 100% renewable.

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Monday, 17th August, 2009

Electricity, my dear Wattson

Wattson in actionI hate getting electricity bills. Prices always seem to be going up, and whatever you expect the bill to be, it’s always more than you’d hoped.

But I’ve found a way of getting the bills down that doesn’t involve sitting home alone, in the dark. I’ve got a Wattson. This neat little home energy meter measures and displays how much electricity you’re using at any moment, in W or in £. It glows in pretty colours and has attracted a lot of admiring glances from visitors since it arrived in our house.

The idea is simple: if you can see how much electricity you’re using, then you’ll stop wasting it. And surprisingly, it really works.

My Wattson sits on the bookshelf in our living room, and I can see it every time I come downstairs. I got a fright the first time my boyfriend turned the kettle on, as it shot up to 3000W and glowed an alarming shade of red. We switched from using the electric shower to one that runs off the gas boiler because we saw how much power it was using. We also tried going round the house switching everything off, to get the display down to zero.

Since Wattson arrived, we’ve saved around 20% on our electricity bills. The Wattson costs around £100, so we’ll break even in just under 18 months. If you get really into it, you can download software, programme in the current price of electricity, and produce graphs of your consumption patterns. I just like the reassurance I get from the calm, blue glow it gives off when our usage is low.

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