Original Twist Camping Trailer

Camping with a tent makes sense – a small package opens up to become a big thing. On that logic a caravan is a bit lacking; a lot of empty space is being transported. You start with a big thing and end on site with a big thing; a bit like putting up your tent before you leave home. What we are looking for is something that can be towed easily, full of all our kit, and then be opened up on site with minimal effort. A full off-grid energy system built in would be the cherry on top and a satellite dish that gets the footie running straight away wouldn’t hurt either. And that brings us to the Original Twist Camping trailer.

Ever had one of those tool boxes where the top parts push away to reveal the box underneath? Well this trailer is just a big one with wheels on. The door frames at each end support the roof and lift it just like a four poster car lift. You arrive on site, the roof lifts up, the sides pop out and the roof closes down on them. The links that control the movement of the sides are steadied with torsion bars and chain and sprocket ties so powering it all is quite simple. The drawing shows one half closed and the other open; in practice both sides deploy together. The roof lift easily copes with the weight of the solar panels, dish, awning etc.

The side pods can contain beds with lights and TV built in and/or a kitchen unit. The choice is yours.

A shower room can be fitted over the draw bar as a separate cubicle that is entered privately from the main living quarters.

This design could be scaled up or down. Here it starts as the size of an SUV, for easy storage and towing, but still sleeps up to 5 when you get there.

Heating is by a truck cab mini heat pump or gas.

The generous PV array raises an interesting question. If your electric tow car also had panels on the roof there could be significant range extension when all the panels are combined. In the new electric era tow cars will need all the help they can get.

So there’s the idea. Does it exist? No, not yet, but let me know if you would like to build it.

Features

Fits in a normal garage

Easy to tow – only as wide and as high as a car

Aerodynamic for economical towing

Automatic opening out and closing in a minute or two

Almost doubles in size

Roof raises for full height interior

Comparable with the biggest caravans

Sleeps 4 – 5

1.5kW of solar panels (4x 380W)

2kW inverter runs 240V fridge, TV, microwave, kettle, tools, lawnmower etc.

Built in awning and cover

4th solar panel folds out to make porch cover

Moulded in satellite dish recess on one roof, covered when stowed

Heating News Spring 2021

Microinverters

microinverter

Microinverters have passed an important tipping point and will soon be all the rage, but first, what are they?  Grid tied PV panels usually feed high voltage DC current to a single inverter which converts that power to 240v AC. High voltages present safety issues and shading can reduce efficiency of the whole set, although, as thousands of examples testify, this system works well enough. But there is another way gaining traction – microinverters. These neat little boxes bolt up under each solar panel and make 240v right there, on the spot, with simpler wiring too. At a stroke the shading problem disappears, voltages are reduced and individual panel monitoring is possible. The monitoring is the best bit with the whole array mirrored on your PC screen. Each panel shows how it is performing and all the relevant history is retained for your viewing pleasure. The system is completely expandable and more panels can be clipped on at any time. The only drawback is higher cost with prices around £100 for each microinverter compared to a single inverter like the £1,000 Sunny Boy 5kW, but as you will see below that balance will soon swing the other way.

Panels – More power for same money

The case for going solar gets more compelling by the day. How about an all black JA 370W for just £130! Three of these with micro-inverters would cost £690 plus fitting etc so the ball park is around £1,000 for 1,000W of power (or better) and just over 1,000 kW.hrs a year of production. 1000 for 1000 for 1000!

So how many panels do you want? And what do you get back? Well, that 1kW pack of 3 will make £180 worth of electricity (at 17p/kW.hr) if you consume all they make, but only £58 if you sold the remainder to Octopus for 5.5p. That makes annual paybacks of a rather good 5.5 years or a bad 17 years so there must be a sweet spot in the panel count. Your background domestic consumption with lights computers and fridges will often be around 1kW so the first 3 panels/1kW are definitely worthwhile. However because panels rarely produce their rated output, and never in winter, the first 9 panels/3kW should be deemed good. All the rest will  boil kettles and run appliances from time to time but after around 4kW and 12 panels any extra will be bad ones unless you can increase your self consumption. One great way of doing this is to route any excess production to your immersion heater and a SOLiC 200 for £195 will do that for you. With that fitted your 12 panels will always be enough to spin up a domestic appliance with all the excess being used to heat water and give a 5.5 year pay back. A couple more panels might be justified to give better utility without diluting the payback too much so it looks like 14 panels might be the sweet spot for most households. All this kit is expected to last for 20 years: pretty compelling when electricity prices have been increasing by 8% a year.  If that 8% persists then payback falls under 5 years and you’d recoup the same amount again after just three more years and then 10 times your money over the expected life of the panels. As I say, it’s pretty compelling

 Of course, if you are running a heat pump then more self consumption will justify more panels but If you have town gas you’ll be making hot water much cheaper than with electricity and that will drop your panel count.

And what about car charging you say. Well, yes, that too makes for more self consumption but, just to rain on that parade, Octopus are offering power for car chargers at 5p/kW.hr for 4 hours a night so don’t up your panel count too much and maybe not at all.

Astonishing high power panels – 540W!

High powered panels are here. For example Canadian (it’s a company) are offering a 540W panel for £200. Expensive alright but with micro-inverters it’s a game changer. Take our 3 panel set above for 1,020W and, with 3 micro-inverters, £690. Then compare 2 x 540W Canadian panels for 1,080W and only 2 inverters for a total of £600. Overnight, higher powered panels have made microinverters the best choice. The best you can get is the cheapest option. No doubt that is going to be the way forward from now on and it would make sense if panels started to come with inverters built in too.

C.E. approved ground source pump for £1,600

You might recall my design for a hybrid ground source heat pump that optimally combined air and ground heat sources. Full RHI payments and less digging etc. If you are contemplating this you’ll be interested to know that a 10kW C.E. approved ground source heat pump unit can be found on Ebay for £1,600. That makes a great start when you think that around £20,000 is the usual cost of a regular installation.

Mini-split heat pump – up and running

We had an unheated laundry room and a small Mitsubishi mini-split (an air to air heat pump) has made a perfect addition. It heats the room while blowing warm air over the clothes racks. In summer the cooling setting will make ironing bearable and some cold air will spill out to make a cool refuge in the adjacent room. Brilliant.

The kit was installed in about 4 hours and the total cost, fitted, was under £1,000. As soon as the solar panels are installed it will run for free but when I checked recently it was only drawing about 350W so no stress there. Solar panels output can be excessive in the summer so running the air conditioning will increase self consumption and be guilt free too.

PV panels on Penlands houses and others

Suitability of PV on Penlands houses.

Nice steep south facing roof?  Dormer potentially giving shadow problems? It could still work.

The roof is about 11 metres long so with panels 1650mm long you can fit 2 rows of 6 along the unshadowed top. Place one more under each end to make 14 total.

How much power?

14 panels at 330W each makes  a 4.6kWp array producing 4,000+ kW.hrs annually or about £500 worth of electricity. This will easily exceed your annual consumption but that extra power is needed to make the system useful on cloudy days. As the power only comes in daylight you’ll soon acquire the habit of running appliances when the power meter gives you the nod.

Total parts cost about £2,500 (£3,000 fitted?)…. See Bimblesolar.com

The rest of your total energy consumption is gas – about 17,000kW.hrs.

At current prices £500 worth of electrical power is matched by £100 worth of gas. Clearly the value you derive from PV depends on how you use them. A heat pump multiplies up the power by about 3 times so that becomes worth £1,500 of electricity but £300 of gas. Sadly it’s the gas figure that’s relevant because that’s mainly what a heat pump will be defraying. It might seem obvious to charge a car but you can buy late night car charging power from Octopus for 5p making those 4,000 kW.hrs worth only £200. Car charging is not a particularly good use of your power.

4.6kW array

The production curve would be like this

(data 4.6kW array – Gatwick area)

The steep roof angle is good for a winter biased production curve and explains why the main peak is not mid summer.

Fattening out the shoulder months is a good thing.

 

 

Augmenting your heating with a mini split – a hot and cold blower thingy completely separate from existing heating system. It is a heat pump.

…. Front hall mounted maybe?

e.g.  Panasonic double head unit (for 2 rooms) chucks out about 5.8Kw but, being a heat pump, consumes about 2kW. The cost is £900 and quite easy to fit as it is already gassed up.

A simpler single unit for half the power is only £510 and would definitely run free almost all day.

Mini splits do air conditioning and dehumidifying too…. Good for the laundry room for sure.

A £200 Solic 200 immersion heater controller can divert any unused energy to your immersion heater. NB Gas heats the water tank cheaply already so electric heating is not a bargain but free is always worth having. SMA are bringing out an inverter that does the same thing but is aimed at electric car charging.

Bottom line     Spend £4,000 and get back about £450 a year but not more than £500.

The utility value is high though with at least 2kW available on most days and the hot water tank often fully charged. In summer there will be a surplus which makes the aircon idea look sensible.

From a financial point of view it’s not exactly a no brainer but it’s not necessarily a bad idea either especially when inflation etc keeps raising energy costs. PV prices will continue to fall so this will make more sense each time you look at it again.

Without the mini-split extras the payback drops to about 6 years if you use all the electricity made.  Grid parity is here.

Property crash coming soon

Death, Debt and Demography – property peril

UK going ex-growth

If everybody in the U.K. was made to stand in line according to age they would make a giant bar graph like this. Your place is there too; as you grow older each year your own line takes a sideways step to the right, and so does everyone else’s.

The steep ramp down to zero starts earlier than you would expect, from as young as the mid fifties. This is due to population growth (fewer people were born in the past so the corresponding lines are smaller) and also early death. You don’t have to wait for old age to join the 542,000 deaths each year; over 300,000 die from cancer, dementia, heart and stroke, all of which can strike prematurely.

The chart illustrates how demand from an ever increasing population made the meteoric rise in house prices inevitable. Look at the biggest and tallest block on the chart – the sixties baby boomers. The biggest population surge ever seen, grew up, got jobs and bought houses as fast as they could be built. Easy access to cheap money accompanied the latter days of the surge so it was inevitable that the run in prices would continue into territory that now looks uncomfortably overbought. That is just the nature of markets.

Once the rush started a new ‘truth’ emerged. With prices perpetually rising, for many borrowers there was no question of repaying their interest only loans; they could always sell at a profit, pay off the debt, buy a car and live happily ever after. This sort of thinking actually worked when prices kept rising; even the lenders got sucked in as their loans appeared to be safe. Old habits die hard it seems but what happens to those loans in a stagnant or falling market? Debt is a deferred payment which has to be paid by someone. Could it be that current buyers are not fully aware that they will have to pay back every penny? Now those mad days are over some recent house purchases may never be paid for, much to the chagrin of the lenders. An unfortunate knock-on from this mistaken optimism is that it inevitably depletes the inheritance tally of the next generation and their ability to buy a house.

Today the bulk of the boomers are middle aged, employed and at the height of their earning power, they mostly bought their houses cheaply and have seen their equity rise enough to borrow against it. There is a smart car on the driveway (brand new for one in ten households), holidays, restaurants, life is good. The bounty doesn’t stop there though, their parents are dying, a house is inherited to be sold or rented out. If only life could be so easy for everyone. The chart says no.

After the peak of the boomers the birth rate started to decline, 13 years in a row, and that signaled the end of their powerful influence on property prices and a lot more besides. The big arrow on the left of the chart shows the annual birth tally in gentle decline for the last 50 years. For now, births still exceed deaths so the population is still growing but births initially make more expense for the very group that is already struggling with high house prices.

The arrival of the baby boomers caused some seismic but positive effects and now, as they start to retire, we can expect to see some negativity as those effects are reversed. More people will retire for each of the next fourteen years until half the current block of baby boomers is drawing pensions with the other half still to go. From 2020 on, retirees start to overwhelm the young earners (backward slope in their area) coming up behind them.

The chart has an even bigger story to tell. Note the two big arrows on the chart and the abrupt change in direction just where the baby boomers peak occurs some 50 years ago. This is a momentous event not seen before for centuries; it signals the end of population growth and the start of a new ex-growth era. The effects of this will be profound, affecting pensions, business, stock valuations and more. As the change takes place the money – that washed plentifully over industries like travel, baby goods, retail, house builders and automotive – is drying up, with results that have recently been all too obvious. Sector by sector is succumbing to a lack of cash. The change is well under way with a lot more to come. House prices will be next. Ironically, as the wealthy baby boomers decrease their spending the resulting job loses are born by the next generation and job uncertainty holds back house buying decisions.

The Government will have to fund all the extra draws on the NHS, pensions, debt funding etc. by increasing taxes or borrowing more. But with the number of tax payers declining the Government will have to sell more bonds and this at a time when pension funds become net sellers of bonds (to pay out the pensions of course). With fewer buyers for bonds the only way to make them more attractive is to raise yields and this devalues existing bonds so even more have to be sold to pay the pensions. This is just one example of how ex-growth U.K. faces some intractable vicious circles. The point though is that this puts upward pressure on interest rates. The bank base rate is now 0.75% so there is very little scope for a fall so when change does come it is likely to be bad for property prices.

Excess personal debt is a major threat to property prices. On the surface daily life looks normal and secure but in reality it’s artificially and precariously propped by debt. We’re flying by pulling on our bootlaces. Whether through poverty or imagined wellbeing, personal debt continues to grow. Average household credit card debt is now £2,603 – pretty astonishing for the average. It seems unlikely that anyone needing this much debt can pay it back very quickly and it is predicted that the figure will increase substantially in the next 4 years. Average adult debt for everything including mortgages is £59,823. With record debt there is hardly a wall of money heading towards the property market.

Then there is government debt. As the retirees swell to well over 17 million that produces an annual pensions demand of around £170 billion not including the extra demand on the health service. The pensions industry and the Government need to be ready for this. The former already have their prudence being tested (or exposed) by the ex growth phenomenon but the problem for the Government is more acute. Pensions have always been met by the expanding set of workers following behind; a system that always worked when earners were growing in number. After centuries of habit forming complacency that era is now over. The new paradigm must involve extra taxes and borrowing. In contrast to the private pension system there is no Government pension pot, just borrowings of over £1,800,000,000,000 which is £56,000 per taxpayer and nearer £75,000 when future pension obligations are added (a promise to pay in the future is a debt). With talk of ‘fiscal headroom’ and post Brexit expenses looming these totals will certainly increase. There is talk about the end of posterity but that’s a word we can expect to see again.

The property boom has divided society into two halves. The people on the right half of the chart live in houses bought cheaply and they are very well off. All the people on the left don’t have a house and can only ever buy an expensive one; after rent, rates, general living expenses these are the people with credit card debts instead of savings.

Take the younger group shown in grey; they are starting out on their careers with little chance of buying a house of their own except via inheritance or parental gifts. The national house price to earnings ratio might be at a peaky 6 but that’s an average. Take a typical cookie cutter house in the south of England for £450,000 and the average wage of £26,364 and the ratio is 17; totally unsustainable, especially as hopeful buyers trapped in expensive rental properties are more likely to be in debt rather than building a savings pot. Let’s be clear about house price to earnings ratios; if the ratio is 17 then it would take ALL your earnings over 17 years to pay for it, and that’s before interest. Potential buyers for houses at the current prices are not in this grey group.

Obviously there are buyers out there, not very many though and declining by the year, but there non-the-less. In the home counties in particular properties are being bought by new millionaire Londoners cashing in before prices retreat further.

And buying still makes sense right? The agents saw high demand for these high priced houses which were sold quickly too – business was booming. Hold on, hold on; that’s the first danger sign slipping by – high turnover. Turnover so high that your local high street can support several estate agents (but no banks) – something weird there. When there are too many buyers or too many sellers there is an imbalance and transactions are relatively low. When there is a transition from one state to another there is a period when sellers exactly match the buyers; perfect conditions for a peak in transactions and peak agents. Logically, when transaction volume is high the market is turning. What looks like a buying frenzy is actually a subtle warning sign. The bubble is about to burst. Is that now? The house builders, are no longer making hay – maybe change is in the air?

A market correction has never amounted to much before and setbacks have always been ironed out over time. You can’t go wrong in bricks and mortar can you? Well things might be different this time. At this point we hear the call ‘there is a massive property shortage so prices can’t possibly fall’. Actually there is a shortage of ‘affordable’ property, but there is no shortage at all of ridiculously expensive properties, the market is flooded with them. You might note how half of them have price reductions; they are not exactly being snapped up.

It would be no surprise if Brexit goes down in history as the trigger that turned the property market and burst some other bubbles too.  The transition will certainly be disruptive in the short term. There are thousands of areas where there will be a threat to jobs and in turn a threat to property prices.

Watch the pound carefully while Brexit unravels. Any need to defend a weak currency could raise interest rates and that will make holding or buying property even more expensive. Actually it makes everything more expensive; a country with a huge debt burden can only expect huge interest burdens when rates rise.

It can’t be sensible to be invested in an overvalued asset class while all this is going on. Buy-to-let investors (already taxed and stamped) are reasonably liquid and might well see the sense in locking in profits right now. Any obvious downturn in the market will set them selling and after that most buyers will step back to watch the fall.

So, to summarise; property prices are unsustainably high, the money that bought them was easy and cheap but is now evaporating. The ex-growth G.B. effect has kicked in disturbingly early with still more jobs at risk. The market may be turning now, or very soon, and when it does the fall will be sudden and without respite. Bubbles don’t burst quietly.

Follow up March 2020:   Well there we are; the pin to burst the bubble has arrived and all sorts of unexpected consequences are popping up. One yet to be seen is the effect on the lenders as their clients lose their jobs and maybe even their lives. In short they have lent on overpriced collateral to clients who can’t pay them back. A black hole in the accounts will decrease the funds to be lent. If turning off the money tap doesn’t trouble the property market I’d be very surprised.

Kenya – Turi reunion

Kenya reunion
December 5th 2018 – Wednesday
12pm  pub, Chelsea

Kenya watu at the Surprise

Well that was fun – Please get in touch for the next one, maybe next Summer.

Were you at school in Kenya circa 1955 – 1965?  Turi maybe. Come and meet some old friends next time.
Where are you?    Susan Casson, Gill Neville,  Arthur and Alice Brown, Simon Jefferson, Geoffrey Peatling, Gail Nichols, Pippa and Fiona Mills, Charlotte Gaitskell, Paul Skinner, John Sutton, Timothy Upton, Janet Lloyd, Robbie Godkin, Elspeth McPherson, Richard Lowenstein, Liz Phelips, Johnnie Sherwood, Jane Faber, Alan Riley, Fraser Roberts, Belinda Foxon, Susan Kennedy.
Let me know if you can come .. contact form below.
Salaamu
Patrick Littlehales