Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brexit: A long journey through uncertainty

Drenthe is known as "the world's cycling province" for good
reason. We continue to enjoy riding our bikes around the
countryside but brexit has cast a shadow over everything.
Sixteen months have now passed since all certainty was removed from our lives by the brexit vote. It was obvious at once that this would cause a monumental change in millions of peoples' lives, including our own. The only way in which we could guarantee to be able to remain where we are with the rights which we have was by becoming Dutch so we started the process of applying for citizenship within a few days of the vote.

Our children now have Dutch citizenship but Judy and I are still waiting for a decision. Though we had lived here for nearly ten years supporting ourselves by running our own business we had never entered the Dutch education system. We therefore first had to complete exams the result of which would demonstrate our ability with the Dutch language and show that we could fit into Dutch society.

A group of "Nieuwe Nederlanders" in Assen in May 2017
after the ceremony in which they received Dutch nationality.
One of our daughters is in this photo but Judy and I are
still waiting.
Judy had actually taken the exams some years ago as part of an immigration course for women but we delayed Judy's application so that we could apply for citizenship together (a joint application costs €1200 vs. €900 each for individuals). I passed all the exams on my first attempt but the process still took quite a long time. I booked the first exams immediately after the brexit referendum but I couldn't sit them until September 2016 and then I had to wait for the results from those before I could book in March 2017. It took more than a month to get the official certificate and an appointment at the city hall and as a result it was May 2017 before we finally applied for Dutch citizenship.

Within a few days of application we received a form letter telling us that a decision would take up to a year. Our children received the same letter last year and for them it actually took less than a year for the entire process so we're hoping that we get lucky with this timing and that we might actually know before the end of 2017 whether we can become Dutch. It's more likely that we will not know until some months into 2018.

Geslaagd ! My exam results from March.
The process has been enormously expensive. €900 each for our two children, another €1200 for us + the best part of another €1000 to pay for exams and transport myself to and from the city where I had to take the exams and pick up the certificates. We also already had to pay the British government 321 pounds twice to renounce British citizenship of both of our children (the Dutch government doesn't like dual citizenship, though that might yet change). What's more, our cycling component export business used to sell mainly to British customers but the reduced value of the pound has done some harm to our sales to the UK and that has reduced our income by several thousand euros right at the same time as our costs have been increased. A brexit double whammy which we've had to work through as best we can: we've had no holiday in the last two years.

How much uncertainly is too much ?
Two months ago we passed the ten year anniversary of our arrival in the Netherlands. We had long planned to have a party to celebrate, but with a permanent shadow above us we were not in a party mood.

We still do not know whether we can continue to live our lives in our own home. We still don't know if we can continue to run our business here. We could still be forced back to the UK, where we have no home and no job.

There was plenty of information available about the benefits
of the EU
before the referendum but this was unfortunately
drowned out by decades worth of deliberate misinformation.
A three way race
All EU28 countries, including the UK, agreed in advance on the process. There would first be agreements about the UK leaving and then there could be negotiations about the future status of the UK. The first group of things which needed to be agreed include the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens here (i.e. the rights of my family and myself).

Unfortunately, the British Conservative government has proven itself to be completely unable to make any sensible statements which could protect our rights. They simply do not seem to know the brexit that they have brought about is for or what they want to achieve. Even from afar it's obvious that this is still an internal dispute between Conservative party factions, some of whom are so fascinated by the supposed "freedom" of a no-deal brexit that they don't mind harming everyones' rights to achieve it.

The clock is ticking in Brussels as everything needs to be agreed before the end of March 2019, but that's not the biggest problem facing us. The two year period is a maximum. The British behaviour is so erratic that they could decide to walk away at any time, leaving none of the issues addressed, including the rights of citizens. That means that we could easily lose the right to remain in our own home.

For us this has become a three-way race:

  1. We desperately hope that the Dutch government will allow us to become Dutch citizens.
  2. We hope we are Dutch before the British government does something stupid because otherwise we stand to lose our home.
  3. Everything must be resolved before the March 2019 deadline, but that's probably the least important of the three constraints.

As for those still living in the UK, I can only wish you luck. Brexit is a tragedy which will harm the UK. Given time, perhaps the UK can re-join the EU.

Does anyone in the UK know what they want ?
I recently watched two Channel Four News debates showing what the UK's population was now thinking about brexit. The first debate included only brexit voters:



The debate is introduced by Conservative MEP Dan Hannan. He claims at 3:50 that both the EU and the UK are equally interested in preserving citizens' rights but at 41:07 he talks specifically about wanting to restrict the rights of EU nationals. Such mixed messages were typical of the brexit campaign and they have resulted in no-one who voted leave actually knowing for certain what "brexit" is actually supposed to be.

Though the people in this debate are nominally "on the same side", they don't actually agree with each other. People were told what they wanted to hear, with different groups targeted specifically with messages that they wanted to hear (e.g. at 26:00 you'll hear how workers in ethnic restaurants were told that they would be able to employ chefs more easily once the UK left the EU).

The second debate included only remain voters:

I had hoped that this debate might be more enlightening, but actually this group is just as divided as the group of leave voters. Some of them now want to accept brexit, some want to continue to fight against brexit but there's no more agreement on what brexit actually is amongst this group than there was amongst the leave voters. How can you either accept or fight something which is so poorly defined ?

As time has passed it's become quite clear that not even the British government knows what they want. Their attempts at negotiation thus far have been described as a "textbook example of failed strategic thinking" and it appears that they're determined to ignore experts even if the result is enormous damage to the country. It's hardly surprising that the EU also doesn't know what Britain wants.

Citizens' rights ?
The two videos above cover many of the concerns of normal British people. There has been much discussion in the press as well. We quite often read about how the UK wants to restrict the rights of EU citizens, but rarely do we hear of concerns from the UK about the situation that their fellow citizens who happen to live in the EU, like ourselves, may find themselves after the UK leaves the EU and removes rights from EU citizens. The British people, and particularly the government, appear to see no problem in using even their own citizens as "bargaining chips".

If I were an EU citizen living in the UK now, I would be planning to leave. The position of the UK towards immigrants from the EU has been made quite clear enough.

Our situation is a different. We want to stay here. The Netherlands has always welcomed us and treated us in exactly the same way as any other EU citizen. The UK may have given up on us, but the EU continues to try to defend our rights even as "our" government seems intent on taking them away. Our children are now both Dutch and wish to stay here and we wish to become Dutch citizens as well.

To live under the uncertainty that we have for so long is causing us an enormous amount of stress, but we hope that it will turn out for the best.

Update November 2017 - Brexit Impact Studies and a useless British government
For some time now the people leading brexit, especially David Davis, have been claiming that they have brexit impact studies covering 58 different industries which show how well off the UK will be after brexit, but they've refused to publish them. Last week the high court gave a deadline for publication and the story about these studies them mysteriously turned into something along the lines of "the dog ate my homework". The have still not been published. They probably do not exist.

The EU, meanwhile, has published studies. They're publicly available and can be read. The only one of these which I've completely read thus far is that pertaining to citizens' acquired rights. There's bad news, as we expected: We almost certainly don't have any right in law to remain in our home in the Netherlands after the UK leaves the EU because the British government will have taken our membership of the EU away from us. This is precisely the reason why we began the process of trying to acquire Dutch citizenship a few days after the referendum vote. Without it we have no certainty (we've still heard nothing).

Meanwhile, the Conservative party in the UK is in chaos. Members of the cabinet have been forced to resign for unpleasant sexual behaviour and putting a foreign government above their own, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are undermining the authority of the Prime Minister while trying to push her towards the hardest possible (most destructive) brexit, but at the same time she's also threatened by an attempt to undermine her plan for brexit and in addition likely to face a vote of no-confidence. How much longer can Theresa May remain Prime Minister ? No-one knows, but it doesn't look good.

And what do I read today ? A leading Conservative and brexit supporter, John Redwood, has been advising investors to pull their money out of the UK because the economy is going down the toilet, while both Cornwall and Grimsby in Lincolnshire, both of which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit are now suffering from the result of their vote. Grimsby's brexit supporting local MP has actually called for the town to be made a special case which remains in the EU, while the Cornish have noticed that a lack of migrant labour is already causing problems with their tourist and vegetable growing industries.

Update December 6th 2017 - The British government is incompetent
Today we learn that the British government hasn't actually bothered to commission any impact studies at all. They're going into brexit completely blind about what the outcome will be, and a good part of the British population seems quite happy about this. What's more, there's been an admission that the cabinet hasn't even bothered to have a conversation about their goal in brexit.

Most people would put in more effort if they were choosing a new ornament for their house. No-one should be happy that their future is being gambled away based on nothing but a completely unsupported hunch, which has some slogans which they think sound good, but no facts behind it at all.

In other news, we've unfortunately still had no news about our Dutch citizenship application.


Read more about our experience with brexit:

Brexit: There was plenty of information about what the EU did for the UK, for those who sought it out.

Since the brexit vote I've quite often heard or read opinions along the lines of that the EU didn't do enough to educate British people about its own importance, or that remain campaigners didn't do enough. Of course it would have taken a lot to drown out the drone of negativity from the British press which has published literally hundreds of negative stories, often ridiculous and mostly completely without basis, but which unfortunately did sway opinion.

However it would be wrong to think there had never been an effort to explain what the EU is and does. When my children were at school in the UK in the 1990s they were given several explanatory magazines, one of which I have reproduced in full below:
The first page shows the countries in green, purple, pink and blue which were then members of the EU, with their dates of entry, and also prospective members in orange.

Under "Exports": "In belonging to the EU, the UK is part of a Single Market which makes it easier for British firms to trade with our continental neighbours. The removal of long and expensive customs procedures means that an estimated £135 million a year is saved by British businesses in reduced paperwork alone. Delivery times have been cut by 20% and freight charges reduced. The EU gives Britain a market of 371 million people. As 10% of UK jobs rely on exports, this means more jobs for British workers." "Job-Creation measures": "Britain receives the largest grant of all the Member States from the European Social Fund - Objective 3 allocated £1.3bn for 1997-1999..." Opportunities to work abroad: "The Single Market means that British people can set up a business or exercise their professional activity in any EEA country..."

Backing British business and industry, international negotiations: "Outside the EU, British businesses would face regulation without representation. By being part of the EU, Britain was able to benefit from the best GATT (fore-runner of WTO) deal for decades. With our partners the UK has a more powerful and influential voice on the international stage". Thanks to brexit, that's all going

The Common Agricultural Policy has been criticized a lot, but it's also offered a life-line to some farmers.

"Did you know that the problem of 'quota hopping' by Spanish, Dutch and other fishing boats exists because British fishermen sold their licenses to them ?"

"How much does it cost ? Every person in the UK pays £12.14 per day towards general Government expenditure - of this, less than 37p goes to the EU which spends it on common programmes (many of which are of great benefit to the UK as highlighted in this brochure)" "Did you know that it is YOUR MINISTERS WHO DECIDE on Europe ? There is no 'European Government' in Brussels. The European Commission proposes new laws but these can only be agreed by the Ministers of the 15 Member States. British Ministers must account for their actions in the Council of Ministers before the Westminster Parliament "
"Europe at a glance" is just one of three such magazines given to our children which I found recently when clearing out things in our attic. The EU tried to educate the British public about what it did and why.
Read more about our experience with brexit:

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Brexit: My country was taken from me.

Last week, the British public voted to leave the European Union after a viciously fought campaign in which the leave campaign was led by Boris Johnson, a politician known for lying, and in which many unsubstantiated claims were made in order to gain popular support. What's more, one member of the campaign to remain in the EU, Jo Cox, was murdered by a supporter of far right organisations.

A divided electorate

Source: BBC
There were several obvious divides amongst the electorate:
  1. Younger people predominantly voted to remain while older people voted to leave.
  2. Older people's views turned out to have a greater importance because far more of them voted. 83% of over 65s voted vs. just 36% of 18-24s.
  3. People with higher academic qualifications mostly voted to remain in the EU while those with less education predominantly voted to leave. All university cities voted to remain. (e.g. Cambridge).
  4. Scottish and Northern Ireland voters quite clearly voted to remain in the EU, while English and Welsh voters overwhelmingly voted out.

Who voted ? Did everyone have a similar opportunity ?

Obviously the result could have been different if different people had voted. It is particularly regrettable that such a small percentage of young voters cast a vote. However, there were reasons why some groups found it more difficult than others to have their say. The timing of the referendum was difficult for at least two demographic groups:
  1. The referendum took place as many youngsters were travelling to the Glastonbury festival. This will have made voting difficult for around 200000 mainly younger, mainly more globally minded people.
  2. The referendum took place during Ramadan - a period in which British Muslims may well find it more difficult to get to vote.
My voting form ready for return, complete with Dutch bicycle
stamp. But did it arrive in time to be counted ? Almost
certainly not. So much for democracy.
Expats are a third demographic for whom the vote was particularly important but particularly difficult to achieve. Anyone who had been away from the UK for 15 years was completely excluded. For the others, the UK government website claimed it took but a few minutes to register but in reality it actually took us months and only some of us got to vote.

Amongst other problems, we were sent incorrect forms (e.g. forms for a postal vote within the UK, not for someone living elsewhere) and we had to send copies of birth certificates to the UK and wait for replies. None of these things took just three minutes on a website.

Even after jumping through a lot of hoops and doing the same thing four times to cover each member of our family, only two out of four of us (my wife and one daughter) initially received a postal vote form. The forms were badly designed - instructions didn't match the material provided (e.g. "make sure the address is visible through the envelope window" when there was no envelope window and provision of envelopes which were too small to accommodate the voting form unless it was folded in half). My vote, the third and last out of four to turn up arrived only two days before the election. Each of our voting forms was sent back immediately. Were they counted ? There's no way to know. However it's unlikely that my vote was counted because while I sent it back by the fastest normal postal service, that service takes between 2-4 working days to reach the UK so the form almost certainly arrived after the votes were counted. I could have used an overnight delivery service to ensure that my vote arrived in time, but that would have cost over €40. So much for voting being freely available to all citizens. One of our daughters never received a voting form so was entirely excluded from the democratic process.

We were actually quite lucky in that two out of four of us got to vote. Many expats found it impossible as they never received their voting forms.

Friday morning: A country in shock

After the result was announced on Friday morning, the country appeared to be in shock. Several things happened very quickly:
350 million pounds a week for the NHS if the UK leaves the
EU ? An obvious lie before the referendum and quickly
backtracked from afterwards.
  1. Nigel Farage disgracefully claimed that no bullets had been fired to achieve an exit, when in fact Jo Cox had been shot and killed a few days earlier.
  2. The UK prime-minister, David Cameron, announced his resignation
  3. Official proceedings to leave the EU under Article 50 did not begin and David Cameron suggested someone else should do this months later.
  4. The stockmarket and UK pound crashed in value, costing the country hundreds of billions of pounds.
  5. Leave campaign leaders proved not to have any plan at all about what they wanted to do next.
  6. Leave campaign leaders began to backtrack on promises they made (e.g. on the NHS).
  7. Areas of the UK which voted out of the EU after being on the receiving end of huge EU subsidies for years are now asking for confirmation that the subsidies will continue.
  8. Some people who voted to leave the EU almost immediately expressed regrets and seemed surprised that their vote helped this to happen.
  9. Instances of racist abuse on the streets of the UK rose to levels not seen previously.
  10. Scottish leaders began to call for another referendum in which Scotland would attempt to leave the UK in order to remain with the EU, aligning themselves with their own citizens.
  11. There was a proposal for Northern Ireland to link itself to Ireland in order to remain within the EU, and there has been a rush on Irish passport applications by Northern Ireland residents with Irish ancestory.
  12. There is a call for a second referendum which could overturn the first result, which amusingly began with a leave campaigner who wanted a second referendum should the UK have voted to remain.
  13. Scotland threatened to veto the UK's exit from the EU.
  14. The EU announced that the UK doesn't need to send a letter before the EU can start the process of the UK leaving the union, bringing the UK's exit forward to the closest date possible.

Can the UK continue in the EU ? Whose decision is that ?

The question of whether the referendum result can be overruled is being discussed in the UK as if it affects only British people who are resident in the UK. Actually, this question affects far more people than just the British.

Given the harm already done it will be difficult to turn the clock back. The UK has announced very loudly its intention to leave the EU and this has done a considerable amount of harm both financially and to the reputation of the UK. For instance, not only the UK stockmarket and the British pound lost value, but also the Euro and European stockmarkets dropped in value and this cost other EU members billions of Euros.

Other EU member states quite reasonably want to put a line under the harm which has already been done. They do not want to waste time waiting for Britain to make up its mind while more harm is caused.

One of many lies put forward by British politicians
is that the country is "swamped" by asylum seekers.
In reality, Germany welcomes 50 Syrians for
every one homed by the UK
.
Before the UK can consider trying to join the EU again, there is a lot to apologise for. For a start, British politicians and the British press need to:
  1. Say sorry for the many lies made up and repeated often by the UK press. These included claims about the EU being responsible for flooding in the UK. The real reason was the subject of a previous blog post.
  2. Say sorry for appointing Nigel Farage to the EU parliament where he used his position to make personal insults towards other officials.
  3. Say sorry for stirring up hatred amongst English football hooligans whose recent upsurge is linked to brexit.
  4. Say sorry for the Britain first exceptionality which has resulted in repeatedly calling for special conditions within the EU for the UK.
  5. Say sorry for the racist policies whereby the UK refuses to take a fair share of the burden which the whole of the EU has had to take due to the recent influx of refugees, many of whom no longer have a home because of wars which the UK helped to create.
  6. Say sorry for damaging everyone's livelihood by creating a drama which took hundreds of millions of Euros off the value of shares, people's pensions etc.
Perhaps after those and other apologies have been given it just might be possible for Britain to be re-admitted to the EU. If the UK is re-admitted that should happen on the same basis as other new members, rather than with the UK being given exceptional treatment as in the past.

"I want my country back"

The brexiters in the UK and the racists who agree with them claim that they have "got their country back". Unfortunately, in taking "their" country back, they have taken mine away from me.

I would like to see the return of the UK which was once part of the EU. I want back the country whose citizens had freedom to travel, which had a stable economy, where most people were tolerant of other nationalities, which grew socially and economically due to immigration from around the world. I want back the country which existed before narrow minded idiots in the UK voted against not only their own but more importantly against their children's and grandchildren's best interests.

I want to be a member of the EU which has been a force for good. The EU has brought an unprecedented period of peace in Western Europe, freedom of travel and human rights for all. This is not something that rational people wish to escape from yet those who voted for Britain to leave the EU voted against these ideals.

Our personal situation

We have a right to remain in the Netherlands for one reason: While the UK is a member of the EU we are EU citizens and therefore have a right to freedom of movement. As a result, we have been able to relocate to the most beautiful province of the Netherlands, and from here we have promoted the best of Dutch transport policy to other countries including the UK and run a business exporting bicycle components. From these activities we've derived our income and paid our fair share of taxes to the Dutch government. In return, our children have a right to good quality education at a very low cost to us because we are EU citizens (Dutch universities are also popular with students from outside the EU who have to pay around €11000 per year for tuition). Being a UK citizen, with the UK as a part of the EU, has made our life possible. Without the EU we would probably never have been able to do this, but we have benefited and the Netherlands, the EU and also the UK have benefited as well.

When the UK ceases to be a member of the EU our current right to be here disappears. It may be replaced with some other right, but that's at the grace of the Dutch, the Dutch government and the EU. The UK will no longer be doing anything to help us. Part of our citizenship of that country has been taken from us. Disappointingly this is not just an abstract thing due to strangers, but is actually in part the result of members of our own families voting against our best interest, as well as their own.
We've lived in the Netherlands for the best part of a decade and we feel quite Dutch now. For some years we've discussed the possibility of becoming Dutch citizens but in the past this has been quite an abstract conversation: our status as UK EU citizens meant that the benefits of changing nationality never seemed large enough as to make us seriously want to take this step.

The events of the last few days in the UK have unfortunately made a mockery of our British citizenship.

The Netherlands is a great country to live in, it's a relatively tolerant nation, it's where we've made our lives and it's where we want to continue to live, to work, pay our taxes and take part in society. As such, we plan to be first in the queue tomorrow morning when the town hall opens so that we can try to become Dutch.


Update 28 June

Some readers may have noticed the calming words from the BBC website about how expats living in Europe will not be affected by brexit for another two years. This is totally untrue. Rather than taking two years for problems to arise, it took just three days for us:

I had a meeting on Monday with my bank. We are seeking a small business loan to expand. It's very easy to justify on the grounds of our capital, income etc. As expected, the meeting went well and everything seemed a certainly, but then the subject turn to nationality. I have a right to be here at present only because I'm a British and therefore also an EU citizen. Due to brexit this right could be taken away and therefore the bank will not lend us a penny until the right to remain can be resolved.

Far from the BBC's claim that nothing has changed, British citizenship already has far less value now than it did last week.


Update September 2016: My pension was taken from me

The process of trying to become Dutch has continued. It has cost us thousands of euros so far for our children to try to become Dutch. I took five Dutch exams in one day a few weeks back. I have results for three exams which I passed and I'm awaiting the results of the other two. If I've passed than this opens the opportunity to spend a further thousand Euros in order that my wife and I can also attempt to become Dutch. We still have months to wait.

Meanwhile, the news from the UK continues to get worse. There have been many terrible stories about people being attacked on the streets merely for being "foreign", and of course the British government continues to fumble everything and the people who "won" continue to behave more and more eratically. UKIP's only MP has taken to arguing with scientists about what causes tides.

Then there's my pension. I never had a very large amount invested in a pension, but this news is all bad. In the immediate aftermath of the brexit vote I watched the value of my pension drop nearly 20% due to the devaluation of the pounds immediately after the brexit result. The fund itself has since dropped by approximately 6% more. I'd been looking into shifting my pension elsewhere. More specifically I wanted to move it out of the UK and into the Eurozone. However, it's now too late for that: I received a letter today from the company which holds the majority of my pension funds telling me of a "deferral". My pension assets have been frozen for between 28 days and six months, during which time I will be able to do nothing to prevent further degradation of the fund, and therefore further degradation of my standard of living when I'm older and might have thought I could have retired.

The UK is expected to activate article 50 during the six month period that my pension is frozen, maximising my loss.

Thanks, brexiteers ! Not only have you taken my country from me and screwed up our plans to grow our business, you've also taken my pension.


Update October 2016: The Dutch immigration process does not reflect our situation

By the end of last week I'd received the results for all five exams which I took at the beginning of September. Unfortunately, I've just been told that this isn't enough at all. There's a sixth exam, "Orientation in the Dutch labour market" which I was not told about when booking the other exams online but which I've just been told about in email. This exam can only be applied for with a written application form. The exam which I've not taken requires a lot of work. I need to build up a portfolio showing that I've been applying for jobs. I've of course not been applying for jobs because I already have a job. We've run our own business in the Netherlands for nine years. It keeps us, we pay taxes. We're not unemployed and that's why we're not seeking work. But to become a Dutch citizen it seems I have to pretend to be unemployed and seeking work. What nonsense is this ?

It's already taken three months since Brexit to take and get results for what appears now to have been the five easy exams. During this time, no-one though to suggest to me that I needed to take a sixth exam, for which I needed a portfolio which I could have been building up for the last three months. Now I have to start again and there's an even greater chance than before that I will not be able to get all the paperwork together in time for the brexit at the end of March. What happens after that point ? No-one knows. It may be that everything I've done so far won't help me at all after March.


Update 24th December 2016

What does the world worry about ? Germans worry most about
poverty and social inequality. British people dislike foreigners.
Rather than wanting to see all people treated equally, British
people dislike immigrants so much that they've chosen to
destroy what was great about their own country to get rid of
them. This reflects badly on all British people including us.
Today we "celebrate" six months since waking to hear the bad news of the brexit vote.

In Britain it appears that politicians of all colours have completely given up any sense that they ought to provide opposition. No-one is doing a good job of representing the 48% who voted to remain in the EU. No-one is making any effort at all to protect the rights of British people living in the EU. The British government has again raised the idea that we are can be used as "bargaining chips" when they wish to impose worse conditions on EU citizens still living in the UK after the brexit.

For us there has still been absolutely no progress at all towards getting Dutch citizenship. Our childrens' applications went in almost six months ago and they've heard nothing at all. Our applications are still waiting because I'm still waiting for a response. My portfolio of job applications was complete months ago, I paid the fee for this to be considered, and since then I've heard absolutely nothing. At some point I hope to invited for an interview after which time I'll then be able to wait longer to find out whether I can apply for Dutch citizenship or whether I will have to go through this whole rigmarole another time.

The chance of securing our futures as Dutch citizens by the time that the UK leaves the EU is slipping away. We lost our country six months ago, and we are now effectively stateless. Our lives are here, but we face a future in which we have no right to remain where we live, where we work and run our business. The future is dark.

Oh, and then there's Trump. Americans! What were you thinking ?


Update March 2017

It took a while before I got my slot for the Oriƫntatie op de Nederlandse Arbeidsmarkt exam, but I went to Zwolle again on the 15th of March for this exam and received my pass mark quite quickly afterwards.

After I pick up the certificate I'll at last be able to begin the process of naturalisation as a Dutch citizen.

Meanwhile we've also seen the result of the Dutch election. The British and other English language press seemed far more interested in the level of support for the extreme right wing PVV than they were in any other political party. As expected, the extremists were supported only by a minority of the electorate. 87% of those who voted in the Netherlands cast their vote for one of the other political parties. i.e. the ones which had real policies described in prospectuses longer than one side of A4 paper...

So who did support the extremists ? Well, in some ways that was actually a similar story to Brexit and Trump. More than for any other party, the PVV's support came from those who were poorly educated or unemployed:


The most interesting result was actually that of GroenLinks, whose support grew by a factor of 4 times. This is extremely positive news. Young and well educated voters proved to be particularly interested in supporting a political party which is both progressive and will protect the environment. But now we have to wait to find out exactly what form the leading coalition will take.

Read more about our experience with brexit:

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Fujifilm XF-1 camera review. A manufacturing fault and a worthless guarantee. Extremely bad customer service is the reason why I will never buy a Fujifilm product again

Sadly, our FujiFilm camera suffered from a very common fault which is the result of bad design. There are literally hundreds of reports online of exactly the same problem occurring with FujiFilm cameras in all countries where the XF1 was sold. After our camera went wrong, we then discovered the other very common problem experienced by FujiFilm customers: The guarantee is worthless because FujiFilm does not honour the guarantee when their cameras fail, even when they fail from a well known and common fault.


It does looks great. But don't buy a Fujifilm camera - read on
On the 28th of August 2014 I bought my wife, Judy, a gift of a new camera. A Fujifilm XF1, which had been discounted in a local supermarket from a previous price of around €300 to €149. The XF1 not only looked attractive but it had a great specification and I was pleased to find it at a reasonable price. The impressive EXR CMOS sensor allows very wide dynamic range in photos by pairing pixels, ISO settings up to 12800 are possible, the camera can take HD video with stereo sound, and it has a full range of manual controls should you want to use them. The aluminium case promised a level of robustness that you'd perhaps expect from a plastic case camera. Reviewers described the camera as being a "stunning design" and having "excellent build quality".

Unfortunately, reviews are generally written immediately after products are released and cannot be relied upon to reflect the long term quality of a product. This review is different. I'm going to tell the truth about what happened to a camera which was used quite lightly and carefully for just seven months before it first went wrong.

Initial photos taken with the camera were great. This one dates from the September 2nd 2014. This was the first day that Judy really used her new camera. Unfortunately, such good performance didn't last long. Read on...

This camera took just seven months to fail due to a known production fault. Fujifilm refuse to fix it.


Our camera displaying the "Lens Control Error" message. Many people have found that their Fujifilm XF1 cameras fail with a "Lens Control Error", it's a very well documented problem with this model of camera. But Fujifilm blame the customer for the fault.
By the start of April 2015, just seven months after purchase, the camera had begun to behave strangely. At first we blamed ourselves, thought we'd set the camera into a strange mode. So we reset it to factory settings a couple of times, but the problem slowly became more obvious. The photos below are all as they came out of the camera and are representative of the quality of photograph which you can expect from a FujiFilm XF1 camera. The only processing of these photos was to scale to a web friendly size:
April 12 2015: Images were increasingly overexposed. This was the first sign of the problem. Already these photos are unusable.

April 30th 2015: Background is completely whited out. An interesting effect with these beans, but it's not accurate.

May 10th 2015: At this point the problem appeared to be related to zoom. Zoom past "35" and the result was a washed out photo like this, while otherwise the photos could still be quite good. After taking a photo which is overexposed like this one, the camera would always report a "Lens Control Error" and you'd have to shut it down and restart in order to take another photo.

May 10th 2015: The extreme colours of this photo are as they came from the camera. Even indoors and not zoomed in, the camera would sometimes do strange things with photographs such as produce these extreme colour shifts.

May 24th 2015: In less than eight months, the camera has become completely unusable. It rarely produces a photo which has any value at all. This is the result indoors in a relatively dark room on a cloudy day.
By the end of May 2015, the camera was completely unusable. The "Lens Control Error" message would appear on power-up most of the time, and if you were lucky enough ever to be able to take a photo before the error appeared, it would shut the camera down after a single photo had been taken. The results were in any case as shown above.

Returning the camera to FujiFilm

I contacted FujiFilm through their website on the 19th of May, describing how this problem had slowly become obvious. This is what I wrote on the FujiFilm website:
I live in the Netherlands. In August I bought a Fujifilm XF1 camera as a present for my wife. The serial number is 2DQ42707. This camera has now stopped working properly, just nine months after purchase.
The fault shows itself as a "lens control error" reported on the screen on the back of the camera. Photos which have been taken with the camera are now over-exposed to the point of being completely useless.
Searching on the internet I find that this is a common fault with the XF1.
How will fujifilm rectify this fault ?
Two days later I received a reply. It appeared that FujiFilm were taking this seriously. They offered to send a service to collect the camera from us and promised return of a working camera in 8-10 days:

You will note that there was no request from FujiFilm for us to enclose any documentation with the camera. At this stage it appeared that they recognised the problem as a production fault and intended to fix it.

However, that was not to be. On the 28th of May, already seven days after promising return of a working camera withing 8-10 days, I received email from FujiFilm which directed me to this web page:

This screen grab is from after the camera was returned to us, so redirects to the shipping company rather than allowing tracking within FujiFilm's own system. The next screen-shot down shows what FujiFilm's system displayed on the 29th of May.

It now began to look like FujiFilm were looking for excuses not to repair the camera under guarantee. Note that the parcel which I sent to FujiFilm included everything which they asked me to send to them. I did not include a receipt for purchase because they did not request one. It was a simple case of FujiFilm fixing a known manufacturing defect. However, while the website said that they "can not offer a warranty repair", it did allow me to click through to find out how much a repair would cost and that led to the following screen:

Note that the total repair price is shown here as € 0.00. At that point it appeared that the non warranty repair was to cost nothing. This was a strange way of dealing with customers, but I was happy with this if it meant they would stick to their original promise of repairing the camera. I clicked on the "Doorgaan met reparatie" (go ahead with repair) button and also sent email asking for clarification.

Fujifilm's photo of battery door damage
which they blame for the Lens Error
Later on the 29th, I received a further email from FujiFilm which made it clear that the € 0.00 which their website had offered us was not the price that they wanted to charge us for repair. Their email included two attachments. One attachment was a photo claiming to show the damage which they claim caused the fault.

I was surprised by the company's insistence that we had damaged the camera because any portable device has to be designed to be robust and this particular camera, though not an "action cam" was actually being sold on the basis of its robustness due to having an aluminium body in place of plastic. In any case, Judy is extremely careful with cameras. She's far more careful than I am, always using a wrist strap, always making sure that the camera is stored in a bag while cycling. It's rare that Judy breaks anything. As such, she was quite upset about dropping her camera from her desk onto a carpeted floor during the first month of ownership, but as this supposedly "robust" camera had shaken off that fall with no sign of what had happened except for a slight deformity around the battery door we forgot about it. Of course, mobile devices do need to be designed to be robust. Such a minor fall should not result in anything other than minor cosmetic damage. This didn't affect operation of the camera at all.

As such, it was clear that this fall had no connection whatsoever with the commonly reported manufacturing fault for which we had returned the camera, but unfortunately FujiFilm were looking for excuses not to repair a fault which was of their own making. Further down this page you'll find other FujiFilm customers report that FujiFilm blamed external damage for the same fault on their XF1 cameras, even when there was no external damage before the product was sent in for repair.

They want to charge us how much ? With no guarantee ?

The other attachment in the email from Fujifilm was a bill for repair. It read as follows (English translation below):

So they're offering to replace the optics and the main printed circuit board, claiming that both were damaged by bending the battery compartment door and demanding a total of €274 for this repair. That's nearly double the original cost of the camera. Note that though the battery door damage is claimed to be important, they're not offering to repair the battery door for this price. What's more, at a total cost of nearly double the original price of the camera, the last paragraph points out that they don't even guarantee that this fix will be all that is required to restore correct operation of the camera.

On June 16th the camera was sent back to us, in exactly the same condition as we sent it to FujiFilm. They have not attempted a repair, but have enclosed a letter which says "As previously communicated several times our technicians confirmed an external damage, from which it results than the warranty is void." Fujifilm has sold us a €150 paperweight. I'm glad I didn't pay full price for this dreadful product.

In the next section I show how we are far from alone in having experienced this problem with the camera and also far from alone in finding that Fujifilm have no interest at all in backing up their guarantee:

How many other people have the same fault ? Getting wise to FujiFilm

Clearly FujiFilm had no intention of providing good customer service so I started to read wider about the problems which other people were having with these cameras. Google turns up more than 2000 results if you search for "xf1 lens control error" and amongst them I found some real gems. Hundreds of people have had exactly the same experience with the cameras as we have, and many of them have received just the same standard of "customer service" as we have:

e.g. dhill complained that:
Has anyone ever gotten Fuji to take responsibility for this "Lens Control Error" issue? I spoke with Fuji yesterday and they told me that this was not considered a "Known Issue" and that it would cost me at least $140 to have repaired (though probably much more, since the lens assembly will most likely need replacing). When I said that there were many documented cases of this defect, the Fuji tech rep laughed at me and said, "so you think because 50 people on a forum have had this issue, it's Fuji's problem?" This is what we're up against, the company keeps pretending that this isn't a mechanical defect on their part, when a quick Google search shows that tons of people are having this same issue. So until Fuji does the right thing and fixes our cameras, we're stuck with $500 paperweights.
There's a huge eleven page thread on Amazon started by YSC in which dozens of people report similar faults:
During this past summer we bought not one, but four XF1s among the friends and family [...] The lens, alas, became the fatal problem, which I'll describe in more detail later. During the summer we shot thousands of pictures, and the camera failed within 6 weeks, right outside the return period. Granted, I shoot a lot more than the average user, but there was no explanation for this. I thought maybe we did something that caused this failure, but in reality we babied the camera without ever abusing it [...] However, in time, ALL of the other three cameras developed the same problem. I purchased these in July, and the last one developed this problem at the beginning of November--the one that's probably the least used. This denotes that the problem isn't isolated, but results from a design flaw, that in my four cameras, caused a 100% failure rate [...] The service rep looked up the info and said that they found a ding on the front of the lens housing, suggesting impact damage, resulting in the lens error, and the warranty was voided. I tried to explain how the front lens housing has a very thin sheet metal, and can easily be dinged (e.g. putting it in the pocket with other things?), and how I have three others in pristine condition with the same problem, proving its irrelevance. 
This is a description of exactly the same symptoms as we had with our camera, and he has also experienced exactly the same response from FujiFilm. That's despite dealing with the US division of FujiFilm while we're in the Netherlands.

Here's another long thread started by Sean65 where multiple people have the same problem. The last post on this thread reads as follows:
Our XF1 had the exact problems as yours.  This one guy had the same problems with 4 units and he documented his experience on amazon.  I knew what I might run into with their repair facility so I did a video of our unit to show there was no "impact damage" which is how the repair facility gets out of warranty repairs apparently.  Sure enough, when I called in, they claimed just that.  I told them that I did a video that would prove that there was no such damage.  They tech told me that he'd call me back after he talked to the manager (NJ repair facility).  He called back and said they'd drop the $140 repair charge and honor the warranty.  If anyone goes this route of a repair, I'd recommend being prepared should they claim "impact damage" if there wasn't.  The aluminum on these has been designed to be worn off with ease to lend itself to this worn retro look and ours had that.  My wife kept it in her purse so you have rubs and little scratches but that's it.  This "lens control error" problem is clearly a design problem and I'm guessing the success rate of the repair facility manager is predicated on how many units they can invalidate the warranties or simply not repair under that status. It's a shame. I love their products or "loved" them.
On youtube you can find a video from someone who had the same error and who tried to take the camera apart to fix it himself. I've not tried this, but as the camera will otherwise be scrapped because FujiFilm won't repair their own product, perhaps I may try it at some point in the future. There is nothing to lose.

There's even a Facebook group specifically for talking about the FujiFilm XF1 Lens Control Error problem. A quote from that group: "My Fujifilm XF1 still has the LENS CONTROL ERROR. Fujifilm just don't want to know. I told them about the problem weeks ago, but they said I would have to pay a minimum of £85 to have them take a look at it. I told them it was a well known fault they knew about the camera and they should cover the cost."

A Dutch review website also has many reports of this same problem with the camera and the same problem with FujiFilm refusing the honour the guarantee.

Don't buy FujiFilm

Some of the reports of the Lens Control Error problem actually date from before I bought our camera. I had even read a couple of them before buying, but I made the assumption that these were isolated problems and that FujiFilm was an honorable company which would put right any faults under guarantee. I was wrong to make that assumption.

This advertisement for a new FujiFilm XF1 states that the
camera has a "two year factory guarantee". Good luck with
that ! It'll go wrong just like all the others and FujiFilm will
refuse to fix it.
This is probably the poorest customer service I've ever experienced. I will never buy a FujiFilm product again, and I suggest that you don't either. How can I trust any product from a company which doesn't back up their guarantee even when it is clear that the failure was due to a manufacturing defect which affects hundreds of customers ?

You can still buy these cameras new. The lowest prices now are under €80, which would of course be a ridiculous bargain if the build quality of the camera was anythere near what it supposed to be. No other manufacturer's cameras of similar claimed performance are discounted to anything like this extent. There's a good reason why this is the case.

If you're offered a FujiFilm camera, even at a sharply discounted price, RUN AWAY.

Youtube videos from other FujiFilm customers

Other people have made youtube videos showing their reaction after FujiFilm have refused to honour the guarantee for these cameras. Here are some examples:







The serial number of our camera is 2DQ42707. As I understand it, the first digit indicates the camera was manufactured some time in 2012. They'd been for sale for quite some time before we bought ours.


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Monday, 6 April 2015

Three year solar anniversary. 10 Megawatt hours from the sun.

5 o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday 5 April 2015. Almost exactly three years since this installation went online. Generating just short of 2800 W at the moment when this photo was taken.
Three years ago exactly, we had an array of 16 large solar panels installed on the roof of our home. I can now report on how well they've done over those three years.

The graph
Each panel has a nominal 225 W output, for a total of 3600 W. These figures are not the often inflated figures which you see from cheap solar products, but realistic figures allowing for aging and including compensation for siting. In fact, our panels occasionally over-perform slightly relative to their specification. Our peak recorded output is 3997 W. That's enough electricity to actually do something useful - like run our home and business.
The monthly electricity generation figures are in blue, consumption is in red. The yellow line shows the sum. You'll note how this goes upwards in summer as we generate more electricity than we use, and downwards in winter when we generate less than we use. Note how both the blue and yellow make a very fine approximations to sine waves - exactly as they should given that these numbers result from the circular orbit of the earth around the sun.
Our electricity meter shows a very
slightly higher reading now than
3 years ago. The explanation of why
 is on the left.
The graph shows that in the first year we used slightly more electricity than we produced. In the second year we did slightly better than break-even and in the third year we used somewhat less electricity than we produced. That's why the lowest dip on the yellow line has risen upwards towards unity for the lifetime of the panels. Given that solar panels can only degrade in use (the light which must fall on the panels in order for them to generate electricity also slowly destroys them) this may seem surprising.

Actually there's a very simple explanation. The output of the panels hasn't increased, but our consumption genuinely has dropped. This isn't due to change in behaviour (we've not changed appliances, nearly all our lightbulbs were already LED). The main reason why is that our children left to set up their own homes so our energy consumption has dropped by two peoples' use.

Ten megawatt hours from the sun
The readout on the inverter says 10200 kWh. That's an average of 3400 kWh per year for the first three years. Our installer calculated an estimate of 3150 kWh per year so the panels and inverter are performing 8% better than expected. The three year anniversary date, the 5th of April, was a bright day for this time of year and we generated 17.5 kWh. On the best bright summer days we beat that figure. However the average daily generation over the three year period is 9.3 kWh per day.

The average is so much lower than the peak because on the gloomiest days of winter we generate far less than we do in summer. While in July 2014 we generated a total of 494 kWh - an impressive average of 16 kWh each day, in December 2014 we generated just 54 kWh in total which is just 1.7 kWh per day. i.e. barely more than a tenth in December vs. July. While in July we generate almost twice as much electrical energy as we consume, in December we generate less than a fifth of our consumption.

The variation of output with solar power generation is an important constraint. It makes no sense at all to install them in less than ideal locations, where they're always partially shaded or facing in the wrong direction, because if you do this then the amount of electricity generated will be lower by a considerable margin at all times.

Note that the peak production requires ideal conditions. Our panels are at very close to the ideal angle and they are not shaded. Less good conditions reduce output to one tenth.

What happens at night / during winter ?
In the case of a setup like ours, we rely upon the national grid to make up the difference between night and day and between winter and summer. People often imagine that an array of batteries would allow us to store energy generated in the daytime to use in the evening. This is not nearly so practical a proposition as the proponents of storage imagine because actually we would need a far larger array to store what we generate in summer so that we could use it in winter. A battery which could store six months worth of electricity would not fit in a small corner of our home. It would require a battery which weighed of the order of 40 tons, and this would pose a considerable short-circuit, fire and explosion hazard due to the dangerously large amount of energy being stored in one place.

Luckily, at this point in history, society's consumption is higher in daytime than at night-time so the power that we supply to the grid during most days is useful to offset what would otherwise perhaps be generated by less clean methods. However at night-time our personal consumption goes up as this is when we choose to turn on lights.

Practically, if human-kind is to become more reliant on renewable sources of energy such as solar, we're going to have to stop doing as much at night as we do in the day (especially on days when there's little wind to run wind turbines), and we're perhaps also going to have to live on more of an energy budget during the winter than we have available to us in the summer. Rather than worrying about a future in which we won't be able to continue on the negative and destructive path which we are on at the moment, I would see this as a positive development. Let's start living within our means without destroying the environment on which our survival depends.

Our solar cells work nine times so hard as I do
I calculated a while back that a human being doing a hard manual job only has the potential to generate about 1 kWh of useful energy in a day's work. That's about it for human beings. In energy terms we're worth about one "unit" of electricity a day. About 20 cents worth at current Dutch prices. People who sit behind desks for the day (as I generally have done) of course produce rather less energy.

Sci-fi film "The Matrix" relies on a plot device of machines keeping human beings imprisoned in a dream-like state in order to generate energy. It's a good plot device which makes for enjoyable fiction, but it's a completely absurd notion in reality. Human beings are a terrible energy source. The machines would be far better off building arrays of solar panels than keeping human beings alive.

My history with solar power
I've been experimenting with solar power on or around my home since 1986 when I bought a couple of surplus 12" square 12 V 2.5 W solar panels and installed them on the roof of my parents' house. These generated a trickle of electricity which I used to charge batteries for some of my devices. I ran an early laptop computer off the solar panels... sometimes. For much of the year there was simply not enough light falling on these inefficient panels to do very much at all. Later on they were doubled in number and ran a 12 V lighting system in my shed. They also sometimes ran a home-made bicycle lighting setup. However while this worked splendidly in summer when I hardly needed the lights at all, in winter there was not enough power generated to keep those lights working for daily use so they were mostly charged from mains electricity.

In the 1990s this low voltage system was boosted by installing a more modern and efficient 30 W panel which I still have installed on the top of my garage here in the Netherlands and which keeps a 12 V battery topped up. Unfortunately, this is not ideally sited, there's shade due to a neighbour's tree, so it rarely produces anything like its maximum output.

I also have a small solar panel installed on the top of my velomobile. In the summer this tops up the battery which powers the lights and indicators and provided I don't do too much night time riding but do have the velomobile out in the sun, I don't have to charge the battery. In the winter it does nothing much at all. Nevertheless, there are people who see this small solar panel (approximately 25 x 15 cm - 375 cm^2) and somehow imagine that the energy generated by it propels me rather than my own muscles. It actually doesn't come close. The rated power output is only about 1.5 W. 1.5 W is enough energy to propel me at 0.5 km/h. Note that I have never seen close to the rated output from this solar panel because while it's not in shadow unless I cycle under a tree or it's indoor, the panel is never mounted at the ideal angle to the sun, and of course in the real world I'm often cycling at times of day other than mid-day in summer.

In the past I was also involved in design of solar powered bus time-table signs. This meant a very low energy budget for the microprocessor which we could use, and required us to design a very simple black and white LC display (not very many segments, but each segment quite large to make a physically large display because the power consumption comes from how many drivers you need, not how large the display is). Even though we put considerable effort into this design we could still not be absolutely certain it would last through the dark days of winter so we had to also install a back-up power supply consisting of super capacitors to at least get us through the nights but also a string of long life disposable batteries to ensure service just in case we simply didn't have enough energy from the solar cells. Sadly, one of the marketing oriented people connected to this project suggested that the solar panels should be mere decoration ("It looks green. No-one will know"). That is when I started looking for work elsewhere...

There's a pattern
Note that all the problems with solar power regardless of scale come down to there being little energy to use in winter or if the panels are installed in less than ideal circumstances. You need only a slight shadow to drastically cut the output of solar panels. This brings us to...

Absurd wishful thinking about solar
Unfortunately, solar power is attractive to people who don't understand these issues at all. I guess it's something about the idea of getting energy from "nothing". Something about a dream of "clean" energy replacing "dirty" energy.

One of the most well publicized ridiculous solar ideas of the last few years is the "solar road". This is the idea of making road surfaces out of solar panels. This is a bad idea for very many reasons. Roads are made of relatively cheap and robust materials for a reason: heavy vehicles and weather both take their toll on the surface. On the other hand, solar panels are expensive and rather fragile. It makes no sense at all to run heavy vehicles on top of them. What's more, solar panels need to be completely free of shadow and angled correctly towards the sun to collect maximum light. Neither of these things is possible if the panel is built into a road surface. Because solar panels are expensive, both in terms of cost and embedded energy, they must have a long life-span in order to repay that cost, again both in terms of cost and actually having a positive environmental benefit. A "solar cycle-path" has actually been built here in the Netherlands (I wrote about this before), and it's just as stupid an idea as the solar road. Within a few weeks of being installed it had already failed. This thing will never repay its cost. It will always be a better idea, both cheaper and more effective, to install the same solar cells on buildings with south facing roofs alongside the road.

This week I came across two more examples of absurd wishful thinking about the potential of solar power. The first was a bicycle with solar cells in the wheels.

The bicycle is claimed to be able to travel at a high speed due to an electric motor powered by the solar cells but the energy input which can be expected from two wheel sized solar panels, which will never be at an ideal angle to the sun and will always be at least partly in shade, can never add up to enough to propel the bicycle. Let's do some numbers: The side area of a bicycle wheel is about 11500 cm^2 (61cm ^2 * PI). We can expect to fit only about 80% of the surface with rectangular panels, leaving about 9400 cm^2. That's about 25 times the area of the panel on my velomobile. If the rated efficiency of those panels is the same as the (quite good) panel fitted to my velomobile then we can expect 25 times the energy production, or about 37 W. That's enough to propel a roadster bicycle at about 11 km/h. However, in reality we won't get anywhere near this figure. That's what we can expect if the wheel is tilted at the correct angle to the sun at mid-day in the middle of summer near the equator. Actually these panels are guaranteed always to be partially in shade, the bicycle won't only be used at mid-day in summer at the equator, and the angle of the panels vs. the sun will never be correct. It's not realistic to expect more than 5 W per wheel. Even that is highly unlikely in my opinion. 10 W in total adds up to a speed of less than 5 km/h. The person pushing this idea has obviously been challenged in the past about the impossibility of what he claims because he's actually claiming to have "shadow optimized solar panels". Of course in the real world no-one makes solar panels for shadow. It's an absurd notion. The energy is in the light. Shadows always contain less energy than well lit areas and even very slight shadowing dramatically drops output. This design is simply yet another piece of nonsense from a 'designer' who will never be able to produce a practical implementation. This is before we even get into the well-known problems of riding disk-wheel bicycles with side-winds, or of wear and tear on the fragile wheel, or what effect a minor crash or merely dropping a bicycle the wheels of which contain fragile solar panels will have on those panels. If it's built then it will come with a mains powered charger and good old "dirty" energy from the grid is where the energy which drives it will really come from. That's especially true for overnight charging, remember, because no-one's solar panels are contributing to the grid at night.

The second example of wishful thinking was from someone who appeared to think that cheap Chinese "solar chargers" actually do charge mobile telephones. Again, we can do calculations. The solar panels on these devices often measure no more than 15 cm in length and 5 cm wide. i.e. a fifth of the size of the panel on my velomobile. That means we can expect only 1/5th of the energy production, or around 0.3 W. That, remember, is in ideal conditions. i.e. the solar panel is mounted at the correct angle mid-day in a place near the equator. Don't expect to come close to that figure. It is unlikely that in the real world such a panel ever generates more than 1/10th of this amount for a significant period of time because it won't ever be mounted at the correct angle and will rarely see full mid-day sun at the equator. I'll be absurdly generous and assume that we can get an output which is a third of the specification: This means 0.1 W. Now take a look at real life charging rates for real devices.  It takes 10 hours to charge an iPad from an iPhone charger. Why ? Because the iPhone charger supplies "only" 5 W. How long can we expect it to take to charge from our solar charger ? 50 times as long. i.e. 500 hours continuous. Because it works only during relatively bright sunshine, let's be generous and assume 8 hours a day. The charging time would be 62 days. Except that it wouldnt - because actually an iPad discharges its battery in far less than 62 days so this solar charge in reality can't charge the device at all. It's like trying to fill a bath one tea-spoon at a time when the plug has been pulled out. It's emptying faster than it charges.

That is why "solar chargers" always also offer the facility to charge them using USB connections. In reality they are always charged from the mains power grid and never from their inbuilt solar panel.

Many cheap "solar" products are in fact fake. The first one I found was a "solar powered" calculator which a friend of mine owned in the 1980s. When the battery ran out, it stopped working no matter how long we left it in sunshine. I took it apart and discovered that the "solar cell" was just a piece of coloured plastic. Other people have found similar fake devices and that includes "solar chargers".

In reality the energy consumption of mobile phones doesn't even lie in the telephone itself but in the huge consumption of server rooms. This blog is hosted on one of the many servers which belongs to Google - which are surprisingly environmentally destructive.

IT already consumes 10% of the electricity generated on the planet. It's already more energy intensive than flying, and this problem is growing. A few hipsters trying to charge their telephones from pointing a small solar panel in the wrong direction while cycling to buy a latte will not avert a global environmental catastrophe.

Companies like Google try to claim to be carbon neutral, but they do so by using the slight of hand called "offsetting". This is greenwash.

Why bother ?
In my opinion, solar power is very valuable indeed. However, as with all things we have to use it within its limitations. Wishful thinking does not influence real life results.

For the individual, domestic PV solar power installations are ridiculously good value for money. Probably one of the best investments you can make at the present time. This is because even without a special feed in tariff (the Netherlands doesn't have one) you are in most places effectively "paid" the retail price including taxation for the electricity which you generate and therefore no longer have to buy.

For the planet the situation is different. In the daytime we generate more electricity than we use and then at night time we turn on all our lights. I am under no illusions that electricity which we generate in the daytime is used by us at night time. Storage of electricity is on a minute scale world-wide - it's a problem that simply has not been solved, and perhaps there is no good solution (for various reasons there is no reason to believe that batteries will be able to do this). Solar is certainly part of a cleaner future, but at some point we will all have to change our behaviour to use energy when it's available, rather than whenever we want it. The rest of the time we will have to be happy with the 1 kWh per day which our own bodies can produce.

Oh, and don't get me started about the people who imagine that mobile phone chargers waste vast amounts of energy. They don't. Anyone who concerns themselves with this particular problem would be better off looking at real energy consumption figures.
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