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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

I have finally found some time to play with the Raspberry Pi. Nothing spectacular; I have great things in mind for it, but for the moment I would just like it to take over the “solar” duties of the Asus EeePc that is running permanently (and hence providing a small heat source in the winter, right on my desk).

One of the first things I tried is prepping the Pi to run all that old Python USB stuff the SMA Sunny Boy requires me to use. My habit of trying to document my experiences as much as possible paid off: I just had to follow the instructions I wrote down myself in 2017 how to install an old pyusb package on Ubuntu – much to my surprise, they work flawlessly on the Raspbian 10 running on the Pi. Onwards to further testing!

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It does not rain that often on July 1st here in Belgium, but it did in 2020 ;-)

Our solar electricity production numbers for June are not influenced by the latest rainy days, luckily: the panels generated just a bit more than the average of the past 10 months of June. In total, we have now surpassed the 22 MWh mark in ten and a half years.

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Yes, “warm” and “sunny” are again the words needed to describe the local weather during May 2020. The COViD-19 measures keep us close to our house, but when we go for a long walk the atmosphere is that of a summer holiday walk. There is much less traffic on the roads, and you encounter more people walking or riding a bicycle. All that enhances the holiday feeling, and takes away a big part of the pre-Corona pressure to rush and hurry. It may seem contradictory, but yes indeed, during those walks we feel like we’re on holiday – even in the midst of a serious crisis.

May 2020 was sunny, indeed: it failed to set the highest electricity production number for the month of May in our installation by a hair. Only May 2011 did slightly better (332KWh vs. 330Kh), and that was in a time when our panels were still very new!

All that sunshine is fine – except for our garden (and for the farmers). The spring of 2020 is sunny and warm, but also very dry. This is not the post where you might expect this phrase, but here it is nonetheless: we need rain too!

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April Was Warm And Sunny

Meteorologically speaking April was a warm and sunny month in Belgium, and that was clear from what we saw in our garden: the grass grew very fast, and our trees bloomed two to three weeks earlier than normal. Local tradition demands that we wear Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) on the International Worker’s Day events. It has been quite a while since the lily of the valley plants in our garden bore flowers on May 1st; this year, they were almost all gone before that day!

The first open flowers on our lily-of-the-valley already appeared on April 10th.

Those warm and sunny conditions are of course reflected in our solar energy production numbers. April numbers ended at almost 115% of the average for the month, and only two Aprils did better – almost a decade ago, when the reflective coating on the roof was still really reflective ;-)

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Yesterday, I have been informed that one of my best friends has been found dead in his appartement. I have known him almost all my life, and we have done many things together: we went to school together, sitting in the same class for twelve years; we went together on holidays and trips, first with our parents, and later with friends or just the two of us; we talked about books and people and movies and literature and art and … life. He was smart, he had a phenomenal memory, he was able to see through fake reasoning and irrelevant propositions in a debate, he fiercely defended a rational and scientific approach to anything, and he always strived to make the world a better place for all people.

Making the world a better place was very important to him. How ironic then, that the Corona pandemic and the measures to fight it played a part in his dead. No, he was not infected. But he was a “loner”, in more than one meaning of the word. He had no partner, no children, no living parents, no siblings, and just a few friends… He was more of an observer of crowds than someone to voluntarily mingle and interact with people. Something from his past – we’ll never know what – weighed heavily on him, rendering him moody and depressed. But he still loved a good talk, and we had many, if not always in person.

Not being able to retreat to his caravan during the weekend and his days off work, in the woods and calm of the countryside, during the last weeks was very hard on him – he told me as much 14 days ago. Not being able to visit his friends for the weekly dinner probably downed his spirits as well.

The so-called “social distancing” we all have to practice to counter the pandemic is without any doubt required if we want to limit the stress the disease can put on our lives and the economy. But it is so badly named: we don’t need “social” distancing, we need “physical distancing”! Man is a social animal, and in times like these meaningful social contacts are essential to fight the limitations that the war on the virus induces in our mind and spirit. If we can’t hug our family and friends in person, then at least we have to call them, write letters and emails, interact with them to let them know we care, to tell them that soon things will be better. Not just once, but often. Because if we fail to do that, I fear my friend won’t be the last one to die alone, while feeling abandoned and desperate…

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These are not the times to fool around on a day like April 1st. The only fools of the day are those people that do not take the current epidemic seriously.

When it comes to sunshine, having to report a very average month of March in terms of solar electricity production is not funny either. If it weren’t for those last 10 days of mostly clear blue skies and lots of sun, March would have been just as dark as the previous months. Here’s the graph to illustrate that:

Our solar electricty production numbers for March 2020

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The corona-virus hits public life hard in Belgium, so we used the last opportunity in a few (?) weeks to visit a restaurant…

Did we like the food? Oh yes!

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The Weatherman of the Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute announced today on TV that this winter (defined as the past months December, January and February) is one of the warmest and darkest ever measured. The electricity production numbers from our solar panels can testify to the gloominess of February: we never had a February delivering so few electrons! 78% of the mean doesn’t seem that bad, but knowing that the number was never lower is not good.

The snow we saw a few days ago was, at least here in the Antwerp region, not meant to stay long: temperatures barely descended below zero Celcius, and that only during the day. I did not (yet?) have to don my winter jacket in the past few months – again, that is something that hasn’t happened often in the past!

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Today is a special day for calendar geeks: it’s a rare “global palindrome day”. In the words of the Solihull School Maths Department:

But I’m here to report that January 2020 was quite dark: sunshine was sparse, as reflected in our solar electricity numbers. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the months of January in the last three years gave us a lot less sunshine than before. Let’s hope that this is “just” statistical variability, no?

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December 2019 delivered slightly more solar energy to our photovoltaic panels than the December average of the previous years. In the end, that means that the production rose above 2MWh for the whole year, delivering less than in 2018 but more than in 2016 and 2017.

Photovoltaic panels lose a bit of efficiency every year, although it seems that the degradation is less than I thought a few years ago. That is what the article “What Is the Lifespan of a Solar Panel?” (from 2014) tells me, and similar numbers can be found in more recent postings on several forums about the subject.

That means that all in all, we’re happy with a yield of over 2MWh for a single year. Our installation is now running for a full decade, so I was expecting worse numbers.

Could it be that climate change has an impact on the weather here in Belgium? I don’t think our solar energy numbers can be used to measure such an impact, if only because they are way too local to indicate more than local fluctuations.

Looking at the situation in Australia, however, makes it clear that the effects of global climate change are becoming visible: extreme draught combined with extreme temperatures over a longer period result in horrifying fires. That, in my eyes, is a chilling illustration of the prevision  of scientists that “extremes” (such as high – or low – temperatures, heavy rainfall, etc.) will become more “extreme” and last longer as the planet warms up…

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Who would have thought that this blog would last for at least 20 years? Not me – at least that was not my plan when I started exactly 20 years ago, on December 23, 1999. I started this blog not on WordPress, I admit, but on EditThisPage.com – thanks to Dave Winer. Dave gave away a great gift at the time: a way for anyone who wanted to learn about how to edit a website in a simple way. I am still grateful for that opportunity!

The start of this blog was also the start of my interest in what later would be called “content management systems” for internet sites. Like this blog, that “interest” is still going strong.

Happy birthday, blog!

PS. A present that allows you to learn stuff: isn’t that the beste present you can receive?

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Contrary to what happened in the previous months, our solar panels delivered 112% of the average photovoltaic electricity in November months for our system. November 2019 will thus help us reach yet another year with over 2MWh – even a dark December should deliver enough to make that possible (at least, that’s what I hope).

 

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Exactly 10 years ago it took just a few hours to install 16 photo-voltaic panels on our (flat) roof. We chose Solyndra panels, because of the ease of installation (that part was certainly true). We knew those solar tubes would be a bit less efficient than traditional flat panels, but less weight on the roof counted for something too, in our eyes. Given the available surface on the roof, we hoped to cover somewhere between 40% and 50% of our annual electricity consumption.

Unfortunately the end of 2019 was also the period when Solyndra started having problems delivering on their promises. I suspect that the panels we finally received are not as productive as promised. In numbers: we’re only now (calendar year 2018) seeing the (almost) 40% coverage of our yearly electricity consumption that we aimed for, and that’s because one of children isn’t living here anymore, not because the panels are so powerful ;-) Oh, and we also tried to reduce our consumption, if only by a fraction of the total.

solarpanels.jpg

The reflective foil below thee panels isn’t white anymore…

Even so: according to the pvoutput.org website where I keep track of the numbers, we have already saved more than 22 tons of CO₂. That’s not earth-shattering, but it’s a start. In theory, we’re only halfway through the lifetime of the installation. We’ll see how that turns out a decade from now ;-)

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Aliens In Our Garden!

We had two completely unexpected visitors in our garden yesterday. I have no idea where they came from – or what species they are. But here they were: two members of the parrot family, both substantially larger than the caged parakeets we’re used to see in many homes here. Luckily they lingered about for a few minutes after I spotted them, allowing me to capture a portrait of each one. Long live the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Zoom Lens, for being practical and not too heavy for handheld use.

Alien number 1

Alien number 2

I hope they find a way to survive in the cold nights that are coming. The climate may be getting warmer, but parrots are not yet endemic birds in Belgium!

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