All entries for September 2013

September 17, 2013

September 17th: Audits and Airwaves

I can hardly believe this is my third week of posts and my first music reference. Oh well.

Today changed gear completely. Got in at 9, spent an hour spreadsheeting as usual, before heading over to the housing department with t'other intern (t'intern? Not that he speaks like this) for our new set of tasks.

Spent the morning doing more data analysis to get a background overview of the buildings we would later audit, and research into all sorts of things. Found sustainable alternatives to tin foil ready meal trays for the elderly, looked at modern thermostats, and discovered Airwave technology which is pretty nifty. I almost said cool, that would have been a terrible pun.

Nest explain it well at, but in simple terms if you stop powering a cooling coil, it stays warm for a while and continues having an effect for a while. When you implement technology that takes account of this as it tries to reach your desired temperature, you can save 30% on energy spent cooling, and I'm guessing a similar thing happens for heating.

The Nest tech is inspiring in general, with its sensors that detect signs of life, and logic that works out how confident it is that you're not at home so it can stop heating/cooling...then predict when you'll be back and resume appropriately. It'll be coming to the UK soon, which is exciting.

The analysis we did was for two buildings under PCC control. They're identical in build (well, mirror images) and serve the same purpose, but one had 50% higher gas use, and the other 20% higher electricity. We also knew that one had LED lighting, among other bits of information. We visited them this afternoon for casual audits to try and figure out the discrepancies and only got more confused.

1. The building that had 50% higher gas use had its heaters off, mostly. Either magic gas fairies are involved or we'll likely find them all on if we visit again. The windows were all open, which might have had an effect.

2. We'd seen a decrease in electricity use in early 2012, and use at a constant level since then...but LED lighting was put in this year, so we haven't got a clue where the 2012 savings came from, or where the LED savings went!

On t'other hand, we did get talking to some residents of the homes on various topics, giving us lots of insight into their needs. The only rooms we found without LED lighting in the building that featured it were the lounge areas where residents were reading. Well, trying to read. They were quite vocal about the lighting that was still there (compact fluorescents) being inadequate, and wanted it upgraded to LED as well. I had assumed for some reason that the apparent "glare" of cool-temperature LED lighting would be disliked by older eyes, but they were all for it. They also seemed less reliant on heating than we thought (though still more than younger people), with the warmer house residents more than happy with the temperature, and the colder house residents also happy.

It really hammered home the fact that you need to talk to people and find out their needs. Assumptions are all well and good for estimates, but you can't beat talking to someone to find out what they want and how they'll use it!

September 16th: Motivation

So it seems like I'm terrible at writing blog posts on Fridays. Who'd have thought? Luckily I learnt exactly two things about the world of work, one per day, and can claim them to be as such! Both on motivation, however.

Friday was one of the longest-feeling days I've had so far. There's something about coming in and sitting in front of a spreadsheet for seven or eight hours that drains the mind.

Oddly, what kept me going was something I'd been slacking off on, the action-recording/accountability stuff. Originally I'd been writing down every time I moved on to the data of another site, with only five to ten minutes between notes. Over time these became less frequent as I forgot to write things down or just couldn't be bothered because I was losing motivation.

But keeping track of my time helped, in a manner of speaking. Writing down what I was doing every few minutes kept me on track, and kept a record of what I'd achieved. What didn't help, and what had put me off it, was accounting for when I wasn't doing things, or deliberately leaving out periods of time in which I'd felt unproductive.

About half-way through friday, I resolved to put down everything I did, the buzz came back, and I realised that even things I thought were unproductive were actually really useful in the long-run as bits of background research.

Also, I realised that when you've got twenty charts to look through and a bunch of background research to do, and it's been really hard to find out when a building is use or whether it was in use June of last's ok to take more than ten minutes to analyse a site! Heck, it's ok to take more than half an hour. As long as you feel like your time has been spent well. The things that are difficult to find out tend to be the ones that are important, because nobody's managed to record them yet, and they've occasionally solved puzzles in the data that both me and my line manager have been stuck on.

Today was a lot more fun. A second, part-time intern returned, so I had company for the morning. We talked for about an hour and a half on our respective fields of study and why we were even here, then later on had a two-hour (supposedly one-hour) meeting to plan the rest of this week. (Spoilers: We'll be doing energy and lighting audits of sheltered accommodation to figure out how/if we can improve them. This could not really get more relevant to the project I want to do next year...)

All in all, about three and a half hours were taken up. And yet I feel like I got more of my spreadsheet done today than friday.

Turns out I forgot how motivational it is to have someone to talk to, or have a definite break from routine. Days of solid data analysis felt like they dragged from 3 o'clock onwards, but today I stormed straight past 5pm without signs of slowing. Maybe I need to take better stock of how I'm feeling, and when changing track will speed me up again.

Tomorrow we probably audit! Woo!

September 13, 2013

September 12th: Finally Sushi

So I managed to get sushi today! For not quite the right reasons. I'd neglected to make a packed lunch so had to go seek some. Anyway, this is supposed to be about work and stuff.


I did more thermal mapping!

Found more tariffs!

Estimated more weekly energy usage!

Corrected lots of what I had originally done!

It's enthralling stuff to listen to. I hear they're making a BBC Four documentary on my internship alone.

Occasionally it gets a bit slow going, so for motivation I have a running total of optimistic potential cost savings per year. Currently it's a tidy five-figure sum, and that's just from things like "The electric meter readings suggest that they're not open on weekends, but the heating appears to turn on anyway. We could turn it off to save 400kWh/week!" and there we have another £40/week / £2000/year saved. Potentially.

All these things will require context, naturally. Many a building will find its story to be completely different, with energy I thought wasted fully useful, and other things I was unaware of being savable. As exciting as being the scourge of book-groups is, I'm really learning the limits of what can be done from a desk with internet access and copious amounts of data.


I'll stop shouting in this blog post. Next is hopefully some pretty cool stuff. Tomorrow I'll find yet another way to say "Spreadsheets are fun and fulfilling!" (a fantastically realistic workplace experience, honestly...though it is satisfying looking at everything I've done so far), but next week should involve some good energy auditing type stuff, if the grapevine holds its salt. I'm pretty sure I mixed idioms there, but you get the point.

I also overheard someone saying my audit stuff from last week "went live", so here's hoping it sees use and people respond to it!

September 11, 2013

September 11th: The plot thickens

"I'll only have six to do and then I can get sushi"

Oh Yesterday's Josh, how optimistic and yet pessimistic you were. You did indeed do the last six, but then you discovered other things to do, and were requested to do them. The nice side-effect of having 71 buildings to analyse is that when you discover any new small task to do, it needs to be done 71 times, sometimes with odd consequences.

One of the cooler things discovered today is the Portsmouth Thermogram. If you live in Portsmouth, or have the post code of portsmouth building handy, let you see how bad its roof insulation is. Useful stuff.

Today I sat in on a meeting between various exciting people who wanted to run meetings and talks about sustainability that people from all walks of life and careers would come to, for free. I'll admit I didn't entirely follow who they were or what they wanted, simply because I didn't understand the acronym, but the conversation had was fascinating.

One of the main topics discussed was the effect of monitoring power use on behaviour change. The experience of the group was that you can give people all the gadgets and techniques you want to help reduce energy use, but they tend to wear off over time. But add monitoring, like automated meters that can be read over the internet, and the new ideas stick. Funnily enough, adding monitoring by itself typically causes people to save about 20% just due to awareness.

Oh crikey I'm tired. I'll save blog content for tomorrow when it'll lmake more sense, by which I mean "My meeting overran and I got home quite late due to buses and rain, goodnight all!"

September 09, 2013

Monday 9th September: Carbon Sleuth! (Data Analysis)

I learnt some valuable things today, and they were pretty cool. Was going to call this post "How to combine Data Analysis with Basic Stalking" but that would be controversial and look bad.

It's possible to work out behaviours that need changing in an organisation with just:

- The internet

- A search engine of your choice

- Some logical deduction

- Full access to half hourly meter readings for electricity and gas for at least the last year

You can pick the first three up from most popular supermarkets, the last one is a bit situationally specific. I got mine by asking nicely and being needed.

When you look through the meter readings (the DATA) you're going to notice some anomalies (the ANALYSIS) that have surprisingly high resource usage (the CARBON) which is quite frankly suspicious (the SLEUTHING)

In my case, I was looking at a library. Power usage for the library was pretty standard for most buildings. Electricity had a nice low base-load that was a constant strip along the bottom of the chart, doing things like refrigerators and emergency lighting. It then had hills on top that started ascending at about 8:30am and sank again by 6pm, normally. Gas started a little earlier than electricity hill-wise, and tailed off during the day, with the height of the hill corresponding to how cold it was. Simple.

But there were these nights, these occasional mysterious nights, where a spike would occur. A spike of electricity usage at about 7:30PM. It was roughly once a month. Some mysterious thing was going on once a month.

I wouldn't have thought much of it, except for the fact that after these spikes the base load quadrupled until the next day's hill. That was a lot of power being used unnecessarily. Suddenly it wasn't just an anomaly, it was a troupe of blatantly nefarious carbon-fiends hell bent on turning the library into a climate-destroying machine!

Now, just when you're getting worked up, you need to calm down. As we learned from Benedict Cumberbatch, think smoothly. We're going to do some deduction, and then some induction, and because this isn't a blog post about formal logic or mathematics just trust me when I start saying induction while Sherlock would still claim deduction. Because Sherlock is wrong.

Roughly once a month was in fact every fourth thursday. I went to the library's website to discover that, shock horror of evil cults, a book club met every fourth wednesday evening in the library, outside normal opening hours!

As Molesworth would say, any fule kno how to dedukt. If you want to do it formally, you can take as many steps as you like, but we'll just say that Book Club + Library = Energy Use. Ping!

But what about the night of carbonic sin afterwards, with all that power once they'd gone?

I couldn't just blame the book club for the base load increase afterwards. But I wanted to. I wanted to directly blame them so I can motivate them into helping fix it.

So I used a little past experience, in a variety of bits.

- I know that generally, people turn lights on to do evening activities.

- Warwick Chaplaincy, an unrelated location, often has its lights left on.

- People in a public building don't think they have the rights to change such fundamentals as lighting.

None of these things were hard and fast facts, but together they let me write a compelling story, I know, you're anxious to hear it...

On a dark and rainy night in August1 eleven fellows in a variety of gaits2 met at a public library. As a sign of covert fellowship, all bore the same tome3 which they had read, each in a quiet place and in its entirety, the past forteen nights.

They entered the building, turned all the lights on4, and had their unsubtle meeting.

Alas, when they left, they hesitated. What was the protocol for abandoning this venue? What state should they leave it in? In a fit of panic, they fled the illuminated halls, leaving them...illuminated5.

The end.

1Legitimate Portsmouth weather, though it's been quite warm and sunny this summer.

2And a variety of genders. I realise "fellows" implies some kind of male-only book club, which I doubt was the case.

3Portsmouth libraries have sets of books available to lend out to any book club that wishes to read together. Not that mysterious.

4I'm taking artistic license here. Maybe they only turned on enough lights to have their meeting. I didn't bother calculating any kind of lighting estimate based on power use...

5I like the word illuminated.

Anyway, I made a bit of a fuss about that I do admit, but I was very excited when this happened. By the power of GRAPHS and BING I made enough of a case that I'll probably be phoning some libraries with a new "Feel free to turn the lights off dear book clubbers" type campaign in the future. Yay!

P.S. Portsmouth is the city where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played football. Hence Sherlock.

P.P.S I found GUINEA PIGS today! GUINEA PIGS! They're a five minute walk from the civic offices, in a park, and they make any day better.

September 05, 2013

Getting Communal

Big day today. Went to the Upcycling* workshop that was being put on, and learnt an awful lot about what Portsmouth does as green initiatives.

The workshop itself was part of Green Neighbours. It's a scheme that makes champions out of residents in the city. There are a little over twenty people signed up who take part in (and occasionally run) workshops on various topics, while living an exemplary lifestyle to spread the green message.

They’re heroes of sorts for the council, volunteering and helping out with things in ways that make much of the scheme essentially free to run or join in with. Manning a stall at a large festival recently, they talked to more than a thousand people about sustainable living ideas. They're also amazing to talk to, properly keen about everything sustainable. I can heartily recommend , a blog by one of the Green Neighbours.

I got hold of some facts and figures about recycling in Portsmouth today, and they make some odd contrasts with themselves. Just hold the following three facts in your head:

  • Portsmouth has the 3rd lowest proportion of waste going to landfill in the UK
  • Portsmouth recycles the lowest percentage of waste of any city in the UK
  • Portsmouth has the highest participation rate in recycling schemes in the UK

So everybody is recycling, but nothing is being recycled, but nothing is going to landfill either? Huh?

The explanations for these are simple, that people recycle but are bad at it, and Portsmouth has an awesome waste to energy facility, but they're a fun set of things to get your head round. Solving Portsmouth's waste problems is quite the puzzle.

*Upcycling: Considered a higher tier than Recycling, probably on a par with Reuse. Turn something you would discard (consider recycling discarding for now) into something vaguely useful. Tin lids become coasters, plastic bags become crocheted animals, empty bottles become "vintage" "shabby chic" flowerpots…

It's nothing new, we did it throughout WW2, but some of the results are pretty cool.

4th September: Making Progress

Scheduling is difficult. So is contacting people.

I think it's the university attitude that you're supposed to finish your work, submit it, get marks and not much else as feedback. I'm coming to realise that I can email people for advice surprisingly frequently, and send them what I've done so far at any convenient point. It's tremendously useful, keeps me on the right track when I may have veered off it.

It also keeps me accountable, which is something I didn't realise the importance of. As of today I'm keeping a note of all actions I take so that I can explain when I've been doing things. It's surprisingly good for motivation. If you think you haven't achieved anything, look at all the time you spent doing various things and suddenly you realise where all the work was.

I mentioned scheduling. As happy as co-workers are to offer feedback, they're often too busy to actually meet up and discuss things. Finding things to do while at an apparent roadblock before such a meeting is a useful skill, saves time in the long run.

Well, that was an exciting post!

3rd September: Into the swing of things

Today featured less supervision and more independence, which was new and different.

Everyone who had introduced me to things yesterday had these things called jobs that they were getting on with, and so did I, so I got on with it as best I could. Comments from people around me included "You're going to take a lunch break, right?" and "Don't stay here too late, we do flexi-time here and you really don't need to." Hmm.

One of the reasons I stayed a bit later today was because I didn't feel like I'd got much done. Admittedly I've written a spreadsheet that estimates viability of environmentally friendly building upgrades, along with a beginner's guide to audits and a nice form for people to fill in, all the while learning the basics of lighting design and an awful lot about LEDs. But the stuff I've actually produced so far is relatively short and simple by design (in order to be easily understood). This makes it hard to quantify the work put in and keep motivation up.

I'm starting to realise that my defence against this apparent lack of progress is to plan everything. I write lots of planning notes, concept ideas, content structures, about every conceivable thing; they make me feel productive, but they slow me down. Just getting stuck into work is sometimes the best way to move forward. Generally I find that all the planning goes out of the window anyway. I need to strike a balance.

On the other hand, co-workers seem pleased with my progress and keen to offer advice. I'm learning most of their names, thanks to the fact we have nowhere to put the new in/out board yet so it's balanced against the filing trays on my desk.


Did you know that Portsmouth City Council is a Unitary Authority? It means it has sole authority over a certain area, namely Portsmouth. In a particularly exciting fashion, the boundary of PCC jurisdiction is defined by WASTE COLLECTION. Apparently that's how all authorities know where their influence lies, across the UK. If they empty your bins, you're under their control. Well, it had to be defined somehow.

2nd September: First day

So today I started my internship at Portsmouth City Council, or "PCC" as all the cool kids call it.

Didn't really know what to expect, or where I was going, or what the work environment would be like - (or whether my clothing was appropriate, how and when I would eat lunch, and a myriad other questions) - but these were all quickly answered.

I went to the fourth floor of the civic offices (got a bus pass sorted last week to get into the city which helped with the nerves) to find an open plan office space with maps of the city and a giant stuffed-toy turkey that had been retrieved from a skip.

My clothing was fine, smart enough for an intern with the carbon reduction team (lucky really, departments varied in style from jumpers to suits, though never jeans) and lunch could be eaten at my desk, in the canteen upstairs, or outside anywhere really. There was even a fridge I could use if I wanted to.

Questions sorted, my morning and early afternoon were full of first day things. I:

  • Completed assorted bits of health and safety training
  • Got added to the IT system
  • Found out where to get my pass into the building
  • Learned the structure of my internship
  • Met a variety of people from relevant departments

…and I failed a test on information security (by being too strict about it.)

My first project snuck up on me somewhat as I shadowed a meeting about a larger project. We'd been chatting productively about different energy saving lighting options and sources of government funding for sustainable initiatives, when I realised I was now set something to do.

My first task, which I started before the day was over, should help people in public buildings do a simple audit by themselves so the council can work out where best to enact sustainable change. Given that Green Steps taught me to go out and do energy audits and the like myself, enabling other people to do so is wonderfully meta.

Oh, and I got invited to an Upcycling workshop this Thursday that's being run by the department as part of the Portsmouth Big Recycle initiative. If you're about, it looks like it's going to be fun!

September 2013

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
|  Today  | Oct
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Search this blog


Blog archive

Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder