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What's a brownout and when can I expect one?

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 18th November 2014

If you read our recent blog post "The Biggest Blackouts In History" you will know that blackouts in the UK are pretty rare. However we keep hearing the term Brownout being banded around amid warnings that one is coming. But what exactly is a brownout and why are we being told one is coming? All is explained below:

What is a brownout?

A brownout is the reduction or restriction of availability of power in certain areas.  In basic terms, this means reducing the power to household items such as lighting, appliances and equipment.  You might for example, see your lighting dimmed and your appliances running on less power than normal.

This doesn't mean (necessarily) that household electrical items will stop working, however knowing what a brownout is and why it's occurring in the first place can help to understand what is going on with your home electrics at that time.  Firstly, it is important to understand that it won't just be your household that is affected.  Brownouts occur across areas – so it might only be certain streets that are affected, or it might involve a whole town or area.  The overall effect of brownouts are yet to be decided – if at all.

Is a brownout expected in the UK?

Brownouts are not actually a new phenomena and have been seen before in the UK in the 1970's.  In more recent years, and perhaps in many of our own lifetimes, we have not actually witnessed them, so they can seem a bit alarming and backwards.  In reality, they are nothing to be feared and in a nutshell, a brownout is a method of rationing electricity to avoid potential blackouts occurring.

We do not know when a brownout is expected in the UK, but we have heard on the grapevine that one could be on the way this Christmas.  A Liberum Capital analyst, which is considered an expert in the field predicts a 10% chance of a brownout occurring this Winter.  Even with this prediction in place, there is still a 90% chance that the UK will not have one.

Why are the brownouts happening?

The cause of the brownouts (if they occur) will be due to four EDF owned nuclear reactors that were shut down for safety reasons in August.  According to EDF, a crack was found on one of the boilers as part of a routine inspection, and a decision was made to shut the other 3 reactors down.

EDF state that there should be a phased return to power between October and December 2014, however, according to an article in the Independent, it could be as long as into next year before the reactors are switched back on. The reactors produce around 4% of the UK's electricity.

The National Grid has expressed concern over the prospective shortages of power and is seeking emergency supply to cope with the Winter months.  The National Grid state “We have already taken the sensible precaution to tender for Supplementary Balancing Reserve this winter, owing to uncertainty over plant availability. The tender process – which does not specify volumes – is sufficiently flexible to cater for any new information from the market.”

Will appliances and other items be affected?

There has been speculation that modern gadgets may malfunction or sustain damage from operating at a lower voltages and may even burn out.  There is no evidence documented to suggest that this is the case.

In reality, once electricity leaves the power plant, it forms a basic supply, and individual gadgets and appliances have built in transformers that convert the ordinary basic supply into the correct voltage (for example 15 volts for a laptop.) Therefore in simple terms, the voltage supplied by the energy company is not necessarily the voltage that is actually used in the home.

Some households in the UK have voltage optimization units fitted in their homes where the supply of electricity in the home is more consistent to around 220V.  This prevents the natural fluctuations of electricity which occur which can see supply vary to between 200-250V.

Based on these variables it would seem unlikely that household electrical items would be effected by the brownouts. However much of this would depend on how often the brownouts occur and how long for.

Awaiting the brownouts

Chances are the UK will not be affected at all this Winter and many energy consumers will probably be blissfully unaware of the potential brownouts, leading us to make the conclusion that brownouts are possibly being a bit hyped up!




Is This The Worst Electrician In The UK?

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 11th November 2014

Last week watchdog covered a so called “electrician” carrying out a variety of tasks in people’s homes. The work he carried out was shocking to say the least and extremely dangerous. We think that the episode is excellent and really shows some of the worst working practices by a so called “electrician” who quite clearly has never had any proper training or if he has, is simply too lazy to put into practice what he learnt in a training centre or whilst working out there in industry. He are some of his most shocking moments:


1. He attempts to fit a new socket without even turning off the power supply at all. In the programme the producers actually get so worried for the electricians safety that they get their actress to intervene and insist he turns off the power at the consumer unit. This is after she repeatedly asks him if he should turn it off, he says no its fine!


2. He doesn’t even secure the back box for the sockets to the wall. The whole socket is very likely to come away from the wall in a very short period of time.


3. He completely removes the fuse for the hob ignitor meaning if there is a fault there is nothing there to protect the circuit.

Then Watchdog get him back in to replace an old fuse box to see just how far this electrician will push it with his unsafe practices and not to anyone’s surprise he does the following:


4. He doesn’t carry out an initial inspection of the property or test the circuit where there are some obvious issues. He carries on regardless re-connecting what is essentially a faulty circuit.


5. He then simply removes the tag for the service cut out box without any consent from the electricity company. Yes we know this is fairly common practice, however we can be pretty sure he will not inform the electricity company afterwards or secure it properly.


6. Possibly the most shocking of all. When it gets dark the electrician then decides to generate some extra light to work from by simply connecting a light directly into the service cut out box essentially running light directly off the incoming mains. The light even goes out at one point and he simply pokes around with his fingers to get it working again. If the light develops a fault it could affect the power to the whole street and even effect the distribution network.


7. To top things off when he leaves and the work is inspected we find the consumer unit is buckled, the wiring is complete chaos and he has actually broken the cover for the service cut out too. This is a potentially lethal issue and is simply the icing on a cake of horrendous electrical work.


So we think this makes a clear case as to why you should use a registered electrician. This can give you the confidence that the work will be safe and if for any reason it is not you have a clear way to rectify any issues with the scheme provider.

The programme does mention that it is illegal to carry out notifiable work without being registered electrician but this is not strictly true. There are many experienced and trained electricians who for one reason or another are not a member of a scheme. In this instance the electrician will need to notify building control about the job and their competence to do the job (ie qualifications and experience). They will need to complete all the necessary tests and paperwork and building control will inspect the work and issue the Part P certificate to the home owner. However in order to keep it simple for homeowners the message really is find a registered electrician. You can quickly and easily find registered electricians here: http://www.electricalcompetentperson.co.uk/

If you want to watch the full episode for yourself you can find it here:



Best Electric Cars for 2015

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 7th November 2014

Despite a low start, sales of electric vehicles (EV) are now starting to get better thanks to an improving charging infrastructure in the UK and improvements made to the vehicles themselves.

Show popper or show stopper

The electric car market is going to see major advancements in the EV market in 2015 with most mainstream car manufacturers introducing an EV model into the market.

If you have previously been put off by the current offerings, then 2015 may well change your mind.  Models that rival the traditional petrol and diesel models – in terms of looks and performance are set to make an appearance.

Love them or hate them the quadricycle EV's have dominated the market to date. These are perfect for city dwellers who are happy to zip around in something that is no bigger than a mobility scooter, however for those who need boot space or travel more than 100 miles a day then an EV has not been a practical option until now.

The following cars will all be hitting a street near you very soon so keep your eyes peeled:

BMW i3 Hatchback

Termed by BMW themselves as electric and electrifying, we think we'd have to agree.  This does not look like your average EV. The interior is extremely spacious and completely flat (no gear stick) and the dynamic exterior is symbolised by a black band and wide tyres.  The i3 features a fully electric engine which is almost silent and emission free, coupled with an extender, a small engine which allows additional mileage (around 65 miles) for a cost of just 9p!

According to BMW the i3 reaches 0-60mph in 7.2 seconds and has a range of 100 miles on one battery charge.  This makes it an ideal option for commuters who want the freedom to use an EV on all types of road safely without feeling out of depth.

Tesla Model S Saloon

If you're looking for a sportier car that is not so much run of the mill, then the Tesla is a serious contender.  It has been built to compete with executive cars such as the Mercedes E class and the BMW 5 series. American influenced, the Tesla has been dubbed as “hardcore amazing” by the Wall Street Journal.

Able to carry 5 adults easily thanks to the 5+2 seating arrangement this is a car that is able to handle serious commuting for serious people who are looking for reliability and performance from an EV.  Tesla claims it has a range of 285 miles at a steady speed of 65 mph. The acceleration is pretty impressive too at just 3.2 seconds 0-60 mph.  With zero emissions, company executives will save themselves a small fortune on tax and emissions charges.

The only downside to the Tesla is the basic price – it starts from £55,335.

Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-motion hatchback

Practicalities of family living has been considered in the development of the Blue-e-motion.  The design is based on the multi award winning Volkswagen golf.  The lithium-ion batteries are neatly located under the rear seats to free up boot space to an impressive 279 litres.  The Blue-e-motion accelerates to 62mph in 11.8 seconds and has a top speed of 86mph.  The range is pretty decent too at over 90 miles on one battery charge.  As expected, the drive is completely electric and has no tailpipe emissions.

With all the modern design features expected from a new car, the e-golf has a distinctive blue trim that differentiates itself from it's conventional models.  The drive itself feels exactly the same as driving a conventional model too and is very quick off the line. There is additional passenger space too which is another plus point.

Ford Focus Electric Hatchback

Ford have designed it's latest Ford Focus Electric on it's award winning counterparts.  The styling, technology, performance is the same as expected of Ford's award winning petrol and diesel counterparts.

Quietly powerful, with cutting edge engineering and zero exhaust emissions are offered as standard on the Ford Focus Electric.  With a range of up to 100 miles and no oil or traditional engine parts, the running cost is lower than a traditional car.

The external charge port is the main distinguishing feature of the Ford Focus Electric.  A body trim and wrap around headlights come as standard ensuring your electric car remains stylish.

The sexiest electric car for 2015 - BMW i8

If these cars haven't quite got you going just yet, then we think the latest offering from BMW is going to be one of the best offerings in EV technology in 2015.

The BMW i8 is the ultimate in forward thinking future proof EV driving. The BMW i8 Concept is the next step in the evolution of the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept. The result: The most progressive and innovative sports car of its time.

Retailing at a massive £99,773 this is not a car for the faint hearted nor for those seeking performance and quick charge times of their EV.  With a range of just 30 miles and a charge time of 4 hours, image over patience will be the challenge with this car.

However once on the road, the BMW i8 offers performance that cannot be beaten by any comparable vehicle with a combustion engine.  An acceleration speed of 0-60 in less than 5 seconds and fuel efficiency of 104 miles per gallon, it delivers the performance of a sports car with the fuel consumption of a small car.

Coming soon to the UK but has featured at the Frankfurt Motor Show....watch this space

Show popper or show stopper

The electric car market is going to see major advancements in the EV market in 2015 with most mainstream car manufacturers introducing an EV model into the market.

If you have previously been put off by the current offerings, then 2015 may well change your mind.  Models that rival the traditional petrol and diesel models – in terms of looks and performance are set to make an appearance.

Love them or hate them the quadricycle EVs have dominated the EV market to date, these are perfect for city dwellers who are happy to zip around in something that is no bigger than an invalid carriage, however for those who need boot space or travel more than 100 miles a day then an EV has not been a practical option until now.






Categories: electric cars