Posts tagged utilities

Celebrating Labor Day

What better topic for Labor Day than reduction of necessary labor by moving off the grid? When you make the decision to cut the power lines, you are making a contract with yourself: to do whatever labor is necessary to keep your alternative energy system running to provide your necessary power. Luckily, whether with solar, wind, or micro-hydro power, once you’ve invested in the initial construction phase, you’ve gotten a lot of that work out of the way and you can let nature take it from there.

However, all systems do require upkeep. Solar panels need dusting and readjusting, wind towers need tuning, and hydro systems must be cleared of debris.  This upkeep is one thing that turns a lot of people off about off-grid power. It SEEMS like a lot of work when one is addicted to simply having on-demand power by signing a check every month.  However, when you see the bigger picture of your energy consumption scheme, things make more sense.  The majority of the power generation in an off-grid system is generated by nature.  This is also true in a utility power generation system, but there, workers must transport the raw materials (usually coal) to the power generation site and physically feed the burners.  Between the labor costs of mining the materials and getting them to the power station, and then the labor required to string and maintain power lines to transport the electricity to you, you’ve racked up a lot of human capital for each kilowatt hour you consume.  By taking a pledge to do minimal maintenance on your own system, you are freeing up human capital for other tasks, like designing new generations of alternative energy delivery or other such noble tasks.  (I won’t expound on humanity’s likelihood for picking such noble professions over, say, sleeping on the couch on a holiday like today.  There are limits – enjoy your time off!)

In fact, this discussion underlines a concept that interweaves into a lot of simple living theory.  In order to see your real savings, you should be able to see outside your own life to the greater good of our neighborhoods, nations, species, and planet. By investing a small amount of time, you can count yourself a philanthropist.  Go ahead, put it on your resume! After all, time is a luxury of which each of us only has so much.  You’ll probably find that you end up freeing more time by not having to work to pay certain bills than you will spend in upkeep.  In conclusion, if you want to save energy, your fellow man, and the planet all at once while building your karmic bank account, start planning a way to get off the grid today.  That way, by Labor Day next year, you might celebrate by DOING some labor for a change, instead of needing a break from your daily grind. Happy holiday!

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America’s First Wind Powered City

It’s official: at least one city in the United States has finally ponied up for a wind powered station that will meet the entire city’s needs.  Meet Rock Port, Missouri, poised to take that trophy home for America.  Fortunately situated near a bluff and with a windy enough climate to sustain a projected 16 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, Missourans are about to get a healthy does of green in their power mix.  Annual consumption has historically only been around 13 gigwatt hours, so that power company will also be able to sell power across the grid to other places, as well as to supply electrical power when winds are down.  With this year’s tornado season as evidence, I don’t think that will be happening too often! 

For more information, look up Loess Hill Wind Farm, the company pairing with the government to provide this service.

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Too Much Wind! (Where do I sign up?)

Too Much Wind?

Wind Turbine

It seems that utilities in Denmark have stumbled upon a problem.  On windy days, the wind turbines they use to generate 20% of the country’s power needs are intermittently producing TOO much energy, reducing power costs to $0.   Yup, that’s zero.  So power company Dong Energy (from Denmark) and Project Better Place (located in California) are teaming up with Renault and Nissan to build a fleet of electric cars with lithium ion batteries that can be recharged during periods when the power grid is carrying too much energy.  Then, this national fleet will get infrastructure, as Denmark plans to roll out a nationwide charging station initiative.  Nice!  To top things off, in looking for ways to “spend” the extra power, Denmark has also gotten cozier with some of its neighbors, selling inexpensive power to those such as Norway whose own energy needs are greater at certain times.  Now that’s international relations as it should be. 

What I want to know is: if Nissan and Renault are already going to build this fleet of purely-electric cars for Denmark and a similar program in Israel, why don’t they release them state-side as well?  Since the death of the EV1 in America, the only electric car we’ve had is the new plug-in option on the Toyota Prius.  Here’s to hoping they make a few with steering wheels on the left side. 

MDI Air-Car

Speaking of steering wheels, have you heard about the new car from MDI that runs on air?  AIR.  It has a 80s VW meets PT Cruiser kind of body, but inside seems pretty nice, and features… a steering wheel in the center of the car, so it can be driven anywhere in the world.  Why did it take someone so long to think of this?  Really.  Right now the car is only being tested in India, but with a promise of $3 fillups (that’s for the TANK, not a gallon) and 180 miles between each one, a lightweight fiberglass frame, and considering you get the car and a home air compressor for less than $20,000, I’m pretty certain it won’t be long before people want one worldwide.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Power of the People

I just finished reading Power of the People: America’s New Energy Choices (2007), a nice short read about the history of, current usage of, and the future possibilities for energy consumption in the United States. At 188 pocket-sized pages, the book doesn’t take more than an afternoon to thumb through. This is thanks to the concise way in which Carol Sue Tombari explains things. She writes as though you’re sitting down together to share a nice salad lunch, not stuffy, not too complicated. But in the mix, she throws in a surprising amount of information about the current energy landscape. You see, Ms. Tombari knows what she’s talking about, after years working for both private and governmental authorities on the topic of energy. So when she talks about the ways in which power utilities fell victim to disincentives for innovation when they “reregulated” in the 1990s, you can bet she saw it happen from the front lines.

Power of the People

The book is divided into two main sections of two chapters each. First, you find out why all this is important anyway. What IS the energy crisis? Then on to Energy 101, a brief discussion of the current power generating technologies and what is already possible in terms of augmenting power load both at the personal and utility level. I learned a lot about how the utilities work (and why this model is outdated). The next main section focuses on the future. What will we have to do to survive the looming power shortage? In the first chapter, she outlines the different players in the energy system, and then discusses how each is challenged by setbacks, and suggests how that challenge will have to be overcome. The last chapter outlines the future and its many possibilities.

I really liked the format of the sections, in which each technology is presented in “the good”, “the bad”, and “the balance” sections. This allows you to get a clear overview of the limitations and promises without delving too deep into science. If you are looking to implement alternative energy solutions in your life but don’t know which one fits for you, I’d recommend this book heartily. If you already have a clear idea of what’s going on, you’ll still find a nicely written essay with interesting photocopy-friendly facts to quote.

The best audience for this book, however, are those who are looking for a way to change energy consumption on a societal level. Buried within the outlines of various technologies is an underlying cry – “Innovate!”, challenging readers to help find the solutions alternative energy implementation barriers. Only a few logistic issues separate most alternative technologies from gaining wide-spread acceptance. What is the power of the future? Could you be the mind to crack the riddle?

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