My Friend John

John's Solar PV Panels

John's Solar PV Panels

My friend John is crazy about reducing his carbon footprint. He has a website describing the sustained endeavours of himself and his partner over many years. I have learned a great deal by talking with him.

The results

John looks at all aspects of his life, including those harder to measure aspects of life associated with consumption and transport. However his headline results concerning electricity and gas consumption are pretty impressive.

  • Over 4 years he and his partner have reduced gas AND electricity consumption by 60%
  • Including the energy they generate through solar photovoltaic panels, their net electricity consumption has fallen by 90%.

And this shows what is possible. We don’t all have to be exactly like them, but if we only paid attention to these issues there are significant saving we could all make.

And lessons for a measurement scientist

John was a scientist at NPL for much of his career, and, now enjoying the blessings of retirement and a secure pension, comes into work in an persistently good mood. And he is up for the challenges of measuring the difficult. John doesn’t mention it on his site, but he spent quite a bit of energy trying to measure how airtight his house was. The measurement is tricky, and the results equivocal – just another day at the office for a measurement scientist! The experiments involved boarding up a window except for a large circular hole to which was attached a fan with a known air throughput. If the house was completely airtight the pressure inside would plummet. From measurements of the actual pressure drop one can assess exactly how leak tight a house is. When John made these measurements his house was so leaky it was hard to measure any pressure drop at all! But fortunately I had lent him one of the most sensitive barometers in existence and he could actually rescue some data.

From his measurement adventure I was reminded of the need for ambition in what one seeks to measure; of the need to borrow and beg to get what one needs; and the need for honesty and humility in the face of unwelcome results. Everyone needs a friend like John

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