Malcolm and Soo's

55 Parkwood Road: A home to renewable energy and organic gardening!

My wife Soo and I moved to Bournemouth five years ago. We have been involved in Friends of the Earth since the early 1980s and Soo was also a member of the Ecology Party

in the mid eighties. I have always been interested in growing my own vegetables, ever since I first had a garden in the early 70s.

I used to grow runner beans , strawberries and potatoes. However it was only when we moved here in 2005 that I decided that as we had such a large garden I would try to grow more fruit and veg. Soo loves fruit so I planted a few raspberry bushes. I also planted an apple , pear, plum and cherry tree too. These take a few years to develop before they produce any significant amount of fruit.

In addition I bought about 40 strawberry plants from local car boot sales. These spread very quickly and I now have hundreds of them, not only in the original strawberry patch but around the garden between other fruit bushes I have purchased , like loganberry , blackcurrant, red currant , gooseberry etc. I found lots of weeds grew around them so I dug out the weeds and replaced them with offshoots from the strawberry plants . All these plants look after themselves and require very little maintenance. I bought several grape vines a few years ago and these are doing very well now although the grapes are only pea size.

In addition every year I grow lots of potatoes, runner beans, chard, kale, lettuce, leeks, corgettes, cabbage, cauliflower etc etc. I intend to grow a lot more potatoes this year. Last year 60 lb kept us going for months but I would like to grow enough to store for a longer period, even the whole year if possible! Some veg we start off from seed on our windowsill others I purchase from a stall at Ringwood market on a Wednesday, very cheaply too! Poole car boot on a Sunday spring morning is good for fruit bushes as well

More recently I have bought 25 raspberry plants and eight blueberry bushes. We intend that the whole garden becomes a small forest growing fruit and veg all over it. I must confess that I am not a great gardener but like to plant things that need little maintenance. We have three compost bins so all weedings and surplus vegetation go back into the soil as do all veg peelings. Even some newspaper is soaked, shredded and put in the compost. We collect rainwater from butts from the house downpipes and other plastic containers around the garden from two outhouses. Plants prefer rainwater to tap water. We rarely have to use the latter now. It’s a real pleasure not having to mow the lawn anymore!

Now that the forest garden is under way I thought it time to deal with energy in the house. We have spent months going through everything in the house, be it clothes, furniture, books, TVs etc and deciding whether we really need it or can pass it on to Dorset Reclaim, local charity shops or clothes bank. We had already replaced most light bulbs with low energy models, turned off lights not being used etc.

We turned to ‘Save Energy’ in Poole Road. They have installed a solar thermal panel at the back of our house on a wall above our balcony, right next to the bathroom where the hot water tank was situated. A new water tank was needed, a lot bigger with lots of additional guidance systems that takes up a lot of space. However it has already pumped 61 hours of hot water into the boiler despite the very cold weather lately. Hopefully for 8 months of the year it should provide free hot water.

In addition we decided that as we will be running out of cheap petrol and gas in the next 10 years, this would be a good time to replace the gas central heating with an Air Source Heat Pump system. Consideration had been given to a ground source system but there can be reliability problems as well as having to dig up half the garden! This was installed immediately after the solar panel. The heat pump system is about three feet square, a foot deep and is mounted on a metal stand attached to the wall outside where the gas boiler attached to the hot water pipes.

The way it works is that it is kept on 24 hours a day at a set temperature. A thermostat inside the system compares the outside temperature with the inside and fans inside the system suck in cold air and convert it to heat. Water drops from the condensation underneath and can be reused in the garden. A single pipe collects the water into a water butt. Keeping the heating on 24 hours a day means the radiators never get

very warm , just a mild heat, the point being that once the house is warmed up it doesn’t to use a lot of energy to maintain a warm house. Just like driving at 60 mph saves lots of petrol rather than speeding up to 80 etc. It works effectively even during the recent cold spell.

The average kilowatts used each week has been 417 since early December when it was installed compared to 568 each week last year at the same time for total gas and electric kilowatts used. I estimate about a 20% saving at the moment. Should be a lot more when the weather improves. Only slight problem is a low pitched noise it makes which I find irritating at night, which they are trying to fix.

On top of all this we intend to get photovoltaic solar panels fitted as well. These generate electricity that is fed directly back into the national grid via a meter which records all energy made. The problem has been that the Government have been holding back on their promise to increase the feed-in tariff. The tariff at the moment is roughly half what you pay for your energy, eg if you pay 10p a kilowatt from your energy supplier, they will only pay you 5p a kilowatt for any you generate and pass on to them, ie they make 100% profit! However the new tariff has now come in, it’s now 41.3p per kilowatt, so you can get over 4 times back what they charge you!!! In addition you can get them to install a ‘reversing meter’ so that any energy you generate and use yourself they have to also pay you an additional tariff of 3p to 5p for using your own self- made electricity!!! This will be a 25 year contract so after about 5 to 10 years you will be making a profit!

However, some companies are not keen to install reversing meters for obvious reasons. Having generously increased the tariff, the Government, after a few days’ grace, has completely removed the £2500 grant to persuade the public to install PV solar panels!!!!!!!!!!!!! I believe they are transferring it to other forms of renewable energy! You can get grants to install heat pump systems too. It is rumoured that next year the Government will also be giving additional bonuses to those who have solar thermal panels and heat pump systems. Whether this promise will be kept might depend on who the new government is in May!

There is also a problem about the detail about how exactly the private energy companies will be reimbursing us for these new tariffs. No one seems to know if they will pay us weekly, monthly , quarterly or yearly etc. Every company seems to have its own policy. It’s worth checking out how to get the best deal anyway for the energy you buy. I have recently switched from N Power to Ovo Energy because they charge less for an online no paperwork account.

I now find Ovo Energy have no plans to install reversing meters! In addition, when I cancelled with N Power they told me they offered a cheaper tariff if you had an online no paperwork account too! So it’s worth checking them all out to find out the best offer. I may stick with Ovo Energy even without a reversing meter if I find the other companies’ regular tariff is a lot higher. You have to sit down and work out the best deal. I would much prefer that the whole system went back into public ownership so we were all treated in the same way. The future cannot be trusted in the hands of private companies, in my opinion.

Hope this information is useful. If anyone wants more info or would like a tour around the house and garden please email me.

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