Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hobs and Choice, something to get steamed up about?

We have been researching new kitchen appliances in preparation for replacing our kitchen.  Technology has really moved on since last time we designed a kitchen 20-ish years ago.   We did not really know the extent of this until we started looking.

The first innovation we had heard about is induction hobs.  The technology is actually quite straight forward and quite old being based on a medium frequency transformer where the base of the pan acts as a shorted turn.  The thermal inertia is very low which means it heats up quickly but the best part is that when the pan is removed, so is the load so the hob only draws power when actively in use which means its also very safe.  It does require special thick bottomed cast iron pans but our cookware is ready to be replaced in any case.

Our current hob is gas fired so I was interested in the relative carbon footprint compared with Induction cooking? From an efficiency point of view Induction hobs are claimed to be 84% efficient compared with around 40% for gas (Source Wikipedia).   The salesman also quoted the benefit of not requiring ventilation for induction hobs though I would think the excess heat from the gas would more than compensate for this.  Natural gas produces 0.29Kg of CO2 per kWh versus grid based electricity of 0.52Kg per kWh (UK average).  The maths points to induction hobs being the winner at 85% of the CO2 of the gas hob.  Cost wise its slightly behind as electricity is over twice the price of gas but overall its a thumbs up for induction hobs.

Last weekend we went to Batibouw 2012; the annual “ideal home” show of Belgium where everyone seemed to be showing off steam ovens.  Again steam cooking is not new;  I remember my mother using a pressure cooker when I was young.   It was a bit of a faff  though.  It seems steam is now back in vogue and we saw built in combi-steam ovens from Neff, AEG, Bosch and Siemens and others.  Again, interested in the potential carbon savings, once home I searched for information comparing steam oven efficiency versus conventional cooking.  After an hour all I could find was a mention of “around 50%” energy savings.  This seems reasonable as it’s a closed system not dissimilar to a kettle.   Indeed I’ve always been humbled by the simple lossless efficiency of an element directly heating water :o).   Steam ovens seem to require about 1.5Kw which supports the assertion of a 50% saving.

Both induction hobs and steam ovens seem to have excellent eco-credentials but you certainly pay for the privilege.  Typical prices were over €1000 for the hobs and up to €3000 for a combi-steam oven which is nearly 20x the price of the cheapest conventional oven. Hmm. … food for thought!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Smart Phones, Stupid Cars?

I recently found myself coveting a new Smartphone. Unfortunately manufacturers seem to be locked in an endless battle for MHz and the appearance of an after dinner mint. While I know I’ll be disappointed but my inner techno-junkie just keeps driving me to search for a replacement.

The EO440 - I did that
Don’t get me wrong, I get the smart-phone concept. I even helped to design one, the EO440 in 1991!  In 1992 I presented a concept to EO’s board for what I called "the Multimedia EO”, which had an ARM CPU, stereo audio, a [2D] graphics processor driving a [colour] VGA LCD and a Sony minidisk for storage but it was rejected as too radical ;o). EO closed their doors a year later because the market simply wasn’t ready.

My first personally owned mobile phone was a Nokia Communicator, followed by a Sony Ericsson P800 and a couple of Windows mobiles. While they weren’t particularly smart they did have one thing that my current "smartphone"; the Omnia HD doesn’t have – the ability to make calls. Its my fault really; I’m just not good at remembering to charge it and it’s battery life is hopeless. So whenever I actually NEED to make a call (like when I was hit by a truck on the Brussels Ring and needed to call the emergency services) the Samsung simply stares back at me with its one black eye!

I bought the Omnia three years ago after what I thought was considerable research. It had everything – 3g, WiFi, Bluetooth, FM radio, full web browser, 8 Mpixel camera, full HD video playback yada, yada. Two hours in I realised that the WiFi was out to kill my battery and had to go; that pretty much also put paid to web surfing.  About 3 months ago I also turned off Bluetooth as my now aging battery could no longer take the strain. It’s still a fair MP3 player if I’m honest and I take the odd photo. Otherwise its just a paperweight that I try to keep on charge in case anyone wants to call me, which takes me back to where I started this blog.

So I scour all the reviews for the figures on battery life.  Apparently 5 hours of use is now considered pretty good; In what universe did that happen? The Samsung Galaxy Note was my great white hope – surely in a brick that big they could fit a proper battery, but no, its only 2.5aH. So its 9.65 mm thick and 178 g – big deal, its still a £500 paperweight as far as I'm concerned.  I put a 3.9aH battery in my last Windows Phone, a Mio A701 and did not run a 5.3 inch display or a 1.4GHz dual core processor from it.  To be fair a double size battery is available for the Note but then it wont fit in its cradle :o(.

Rant over you might think? Well no, this is an ecoblog after all and I’m also in the market for an electric car :o)

Most people [perhaps those same people who think a 5 hours battery on a smartphone is ok and have them tethered to a wall socket most of the time] say that electric cars aren’t ready for primetime because their battery life is not good enough. However, like Smartphones I think I get the concept. I’m not one of your Top Gear troglodytes that won’t buy one because they have limited range. I know that 90% of my journeys are round trips of less than 50 miles and we have a second car for those longer journeys. Indeed if I did the fuel maths I could probably get rid of that too and just hire a normal car when I really needed to go a long way.

If only it looked as good as this!
So what’s the problem I hear you say? Well most electric cars are just stupidly expensive and I just don’t need one that badly. Then Renault came up with a Clio sized car that seemed to be perfect on paper and not badly priced. The catch? They rent you the battery. Ok, so people are concerned about battery longevity and this is one way of taking away the worry, but the rental cost is simply unreal. Its £60 per month, which is way more than the fuel cost of our current second car. We simply cannot do enough mileage to make it financially worthwhile.

So that’s two bits of tech-kit that my engineering brain is dying to have but my wallet is screaming no to. Is it me or are the business models of both Smartphones and Electric cars just out of touch with reality?