Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Did any of the early solar installs in Scotland actually work?

While I understand the difference between the various methods of harvesting solar energy, I don’t want to get hung up on the technical aspects, so this is just a generalisation.

I came across a couple of pics from a few years ago, just about the same time I happened to be reading some articles about the mistakes made by those who set up businesses to install domestic solar power systems back then. While systems have, not surprisingly, become more efficient and effective since then, many of those early installs were less than effective, didn’t deliver the promised performance, and were lumbered with long guarantees, contracts, and subsidies that made them look better than they really were.

I wonder what happened to those contracts when the company just closed its doors as it couldn’t continue?

And that’s before even beginning to consider the ‘cowboys’ who jumped into this to make a quick buck, and ride off into the sunset with the cash, having never had any intention of honouring the contracts – but that’s another issue, and not what I have in mind here.

There are quite a few solar installs around me now, most of which look like standard PV (photovoltaic) installs rather than any of the alternative energy collectors. Some comprise only a few panels, and I wonder if they contribute significantly to the energy demand of the house, as I see few frugal energy users, despite all the whining about high energy costs. Others are huge, if the home has a large roof, or is some sort of commercial premises, with a huge roof area. By sheer size alone, they will be delivering a reasonable energy harvest.

Not just solar that’s not guaranteed, as Edinburgh-based energy supplier Our Power folds

Direct Solar To Let

Direct Solar To Let


Direct Solar To Let

Direct Solar To Let


I think I should be clear I’m not kicking solar power. This even works in Scotland thanks to advances in the tech, but has to be on a large enough scale to make it worthwhile.

And that’s the point raised above, as I know the power consumption of my neighbour’s homes, and the amount of solar power most of them could harvest from early installs was just not useful when compared to their overall consumption.

14/02/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography | | Leave a comment

Shettleston’s ‘Special’ bus stop

I keep finding good stuff missing from the Blog because I made the mistake of posting stuff on a Scottish ‘Social Media’ type web site that eventually turned political (or at the very least allowed rabid political activists free access with little or no moderation), leading me to bale out, and delete all my contributions.

Just as well I jumped ship, as I see it recently did a ‘Photobucket’ on the folk who stayed with it, and dumped them recently, when it decided to change course and pursue a more lucrative path in a new life. (No, I’m not going to name it, either under its old or its new name).

Although this Shettleston bus stop was a later find, investigating the original sighting of this type of bus stop was fun at the time, especially since nobody seemed to have noticed them anywhere, or knew (or would admit they knew) what they were before I tracked them down.

So – spot anything different or unusual about this bus stop?

Shettleston Special Stop

Shettleston Special Stop

How about this view in daylight, from the other side?

Shettleston Special Stop

Shettleston Special Stop

Hint time – look at the top, and just below the timetable holder.

There’s something down there.

Shettleston Special Stop Secret Button

Shettleston Special Stop Secret Button

Although this example was long dead by the time I spotted it (after walking past it for years without noticing it), it is actually a… solar powered bus stop.

The button below the timetable allows users to activate a set of solar powered lights mounted under that flat top fitted to the top of the pole, which then shine down on each side of the sign so it can be read in the dark.

If you know the stop and feel like trying this out, don’t bother. It’s been dead for years. I assume these were installed as a test, and have never been maintained so, although the hardware is there, the rechargeable batteries that the solar cells kept topped up expired a long time ago.

The first one I found was on the Gallowgate, near The Barras, and was almost still working.

The reason I discovered it was because the relays that switched the batteries/solar cells/LEDs were chattering, presumably it had reached the stage where the rechargeable batteries were marginal, so that their voltage was high enough to operate the circuits, but when they did, their voltage fell, so things stopped working. That let the voltage rise, so things tried to start working again, and this situation just kept repeating.

The result was that the lighting would actually work when the button (which also lit up) was pressed, but confusingly only did so in daylight, when the solar cells were supplementing the batteries. Come night, and the dark, and the thing was dead and wouldn’t light up – just when it was needed, of course. Murphy’s Law ALWAYS applies to electronics.

How it should look

These are some pics I took of the original find in the Gallowgate, when I could coax it into working (in daylight!).

With enough power, the button would light up in the latest ‘fashionable’ cool blue.

Solar Illumination Button

Solar Illumination Button

Three LEDs sat on each side of the bus stop sign.

Not visible, but obviously there, is a solar cell (or cells) on top of that flat enclosure.

Solar Powered Bus Stop LEDs

Solar Powered Bus Stop LEDs

And lit each side like this.

Or they would have, had they been able to light up in the dark, instead of when it was nice and bright!

Solar Powered Bus Stop Illumination

Solar Powered Bus Stop Illumination

I’m not surprised this (apparently) died the death.

Our new LED streetlighting is now more than able to make any bus stop easy to see at night.

Perhaps the folk behind this sorry idea could have made their little fortune had they found a way to illuminate the timetables shown at the bus stop.

They don’t face any streetlight, so don’t get any direct light, meaning they are hard to read at night.

Lighting the timetables, so they could be read at night would have been LOT SMARTER.


09/08/2018 Posted by | Civilian, council, photography, Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Life on Muck – almost a modern electrical fable

Solar cell sun

It was fascinating to read the reality of life on the tiny island of Muck, which has just moved into the world of 24-hour mains electricity supply.

Previously, the islanders (numbering 38 at the time of writing) were limited to a schedule, determined by the fuel supply of the island’s diesel generators which first provided electricity in 1970, but could only provide power for 14 hours a day, from 11 am to 5 pm, and 11:30 pm to 7 :30 am. The population has fallen over the years, having peaked around 300 at the start of the 20th century.

This meant using candles or tilley lamps similar for lighting, missing the end of films, and problems with food stored in fridges and refrigerators, with the island’s tearoom having to organise things to make sure provisions were safely stored. The island’s generator was only rated at 10 kW, which meant that users had to arrange schedules for using appliances such as washing machines that drew large amounts of power when operating.

There’s a fair few outright lies being circulated by supporters of Donald Trump, posting comments after articles critical of the Dump to the effect that wind power doesn’t work, but Muck is benefiting from developments in this area (albeit I am not suggesting the island has suddenly grown a giant wind farm), and its new supply is built around a new installation combining six 5 kW wind turbines with a 30 kW solar panel installation.

Muck joins Eigg, where residents now get more than 90% of their electricity from hydro, solar and wind schemes, and micro hydro-electric schemes, wind turbines and photo-voltaic cells saw the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust named overall UK winner in the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy for 2011.

The new supply was made possible when Muck Community Enterprise Company received a grant of £978,840 last year,  to help introduce the system of wind turbines and solar panels.

The lack of a continuous electricity supply limited the opportunities for business and growth on the island, but the new supply is hoped to improve this, so the tearoom, hotel, and two B&Bs on the island should benefit from increased numbers of visitors who can also be better catered for.

Muck tearoom 2006

Tea Room area – © Dr Julian Paren via geograph

The selected pic actually shows the parking area for the Tea Room, which is not  actually visible, and lies just off to the left in this view. It’s worth noting that there are no cars on Muck, and visitors get around on bicycles, or by tractor. (Our thanks to the photographer.)

I have to admit to being a little intrigued by the mix of renewables as used on Muck: 5 kW of wind plus 30 kW of solar. Considering the usual image of weather conjured up by thoughts of Scottish islands, and having been on one or two myself, I’d have thought the lion’s share would have gone to wind, with solar acting as the backup.

It will be interesting to see if there is a later story, reporting a change, or if this initial division proves to have been correct.

See Muck switches to 24-hour power supply for first time

And Muck celebrates as it gets electricity 24 hours a day for first time | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

Also Muck gets 24hr electricity supply for first time – Heritage –

30/03/2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | 1 Comment

Renewables bob back up in the news

The various renewable power generation schemes seemed to have gone a little quiet in the news, which was handy after I decided to stop following them as I was afraid of becoming stuck in some sort of pro or anti crusade, rather than just being interested.

From comments received, it seem that if you disagree with claims about any particular system you are quickly targeted by its fans, and seen as some sort of heretic, while if you offer positive remarks, others will consider you as some kind of nut – or green loony.

Still, the past week has been interesting…

Wave Power

Vagr Artfed wave power generatorStarting in Scotland, the Vagr Atferd generator has just been completed and launched in Leith, where it was produced by local firm Pelamis Wave Power (PWP) for the German energy giant E.On. It will travel to Orkney, where it will be tested for three years to prepare it for commercial use.

180 metres long, it weighs 1,500 tonnes and can produce up to 750 kW of electricity.

Launch picture courtesy of the Scottish Government web site.

Solar Power

Next, is the possibly surprising story that proposals for a £40 million network of solar farms are to be the subject of a public consultation. This will look at plans for a 15-acre “energy farm” on a green-field site at St Kew, three miles east of Wadebridge, which acts as the gateway to north Cornwall’s popular tourist heartlands. A local farmer has raised £4.5 million of private investment to construct the first of what could be ten similar sites across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which, if all built, would triple the UK’s current solar generating capacity.

I sense an alarm bell ringing about the seriousness of this proposal, not because of the viability or otherwise of solar power – I’ve lived down on the south coast of England during summer and winter, and the difference between Central Scotland and the south coast is stunning, no wonder the oldies go and retire there. Even in the height of (a normal) winter, you can find there is no real need for heating – at least if you are a Scot used to freezing in Glasgow during (a normal) winter.

What I actually found of concern was the proposer’s statement to the effect that, “To reduce costs, R-ECO says it is cheaper to employ five staff to manually adjust the panels so they face towards the sun as it moves across the sky than install automated tilting mechanisms.”

Five staff at average wages would cost about £125,000 per annum, just to carry out an inefficient manual adjustment of the solar panels. Inefficient because they would only be able to optimise the panels at intervals, presumably when they did their rounds, and not continuously as would be the case of an automated system. I can think of two different control system that could be used to control cheap servos, and these are priced in the hundred of pound per system, rather than thousands. Costs could be further reduced by having one controller control banks of panels, meaning only the servos need to be duplicated.


As I thought, there is no problem in automating the sun-tracking process, and gaining a considerable efficiency increase as a result. This site offers one way of achieving this, which could be constructed more professionally, and still be cheaper than the annual cost of employing five staff to do this by hand.

I think the people in Cornwall need to employ some smarter planners, if they are serious.

Britain described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of renewable energy’

I suspect that the articles suggesting Britain could be the ‘Saudi Arabia of renewable energy’ might be better entitled if the word ‘Britain’ was replaced by ‘Scotland’, as most of the reports I’ve spotted have tended to concentrate on the North Sea, and the power that could be collected there. But to be fair, the bigger picture does draw on power that could be collected from further afield.

My own opinion of these claims is to side with the sceptics, as although the report was produced by an independent group, it was sponsored by Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Scottish government and the Crown Estate as well as companies including Scottish and Southern Energy, E.ON and wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas.

This is not to imply that there is anything particularly underhand, rather that it will be biased to report the most favourable options, and minimise or ignore those that are not advantageous to the sponsors. Although I haven’t noted any particular article or report, a look around the web nowadays will find publications which suggest that the promised return from wind farms are failing to meet promised made, as the wind has failed to blow to the extent that initial applications claimed it would. In light of this real world ‘revelation’, the following quote from the study just sounds to good be true, and perhaps the cost of achieving what is stated would be impractical:

The study, undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group, suggests that Britain could not only keep the lights on but would produce a surplus, suggesting the need for connections to a “super grid” to enable electricity to be exported via subsea cables. It predicts that using even 29% of the available resources, Britain could save 1.1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and the middle the century.

I think the closing remark is much more reasonable, and contains the necessary warning about net getting too carried away by promises of Britain becoming the Saudi Arabia of renewables:

There was caution among financial analysts such as Dean Cooper, head of clean tech at Ambrian Resources. He said: “We see the report as providing compelling sizing information to value the offshore resource, but equally it highlights the herculean scale of efforts needed to achieve the numbers outlined. To reach 78GW will require a build rate of 2.8GW per annum by 2050, which is equivalent to more than two 5MW turbines every day. This compares to the equivalent of one 5MW turbine installed every two weeks for the installed stock of offshore wind in the UK today. Offshore wind will be an important element in the UK’s energy mix to keep the lights on, yet the gaps in supply chain, grid and planning to achieve this are monumental. There is money to be made in offshore wind as a structural growth trend, but when?”

This sounds much more like a statement made in the real world where such projects have to be funded by real money, attract real investment, and work in real time, not some impossible or impractically short timescale that suits a soundbite made for the benefit of the media, or political expediency.

Think back to the first article I mentioned above, where new technology for collecting wave power is not even going to become operational for at least three years, as it is going to take that long merely to test its practicality in the sea. If anything goes wrong and it falls apart, the technology could take many more years to refine and make practical, and the way some investors work, it could simply be scuttled and abandoned if it does fail under test, and no-one is prepared to invest further.

23/05/2010 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | 4 Comments


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