An Incredibly Literate Conversation Between Friends About Power

Editor’s Intro:  Yesterday I posted a lengthy rant about nuclear power, politics, and humanity. In the old days of my youth, I knew a lot about nuclear power and its alternatives out there. But technology has changed and I have become complacent about power, at least somewhat. In response to my own rant came a conversation on Facebook between two old friends.  Joe Roberts is a scientist in his day-time job. Cathi (“Cat”) Chapin-Bishop is a teacher. Both have been friends since well before I knew them and continue to be so.

Here’s their conversation:

Peace,

John

Joe Roberts: If we can’t have nuclear… and we can’t have coal or oil… WHERE is the energy going to come from? All of them have their issues. Solar and Wind are nowhere near where they need to be to get rid of all of them. Personally I don’t want to go back to the days of no electricity, using horses, etc. Do I have a solution? No. If we can’t have nuclear… and we can’t have coal or oil… WHERE is the energy going to come from? All of them have their issues. Solar and Wind are nowhere near where they need to be to get rid of all of them. Personally I don’t want to go back to the days of no electricity, using horses, etc. Do I have a solution? No.

Cathi: Chapin-Bishop: Joe, we must use less electricity to begin with, make use of solar and wind, tidal, geothermal, and hydro, and not be fooled by some of the rhetoric out there. For instance, critics of solar say it is too expensive…ignoring the fact that, if solar were subsidized at the level petroleum currently is, it would be comparable in cost. Then they say solar generation farms consume too much acreage of land… ignoring the feasibility of distributed production: i.e.: give me a little help to get it up there, and I’ll be among hundreds of thousands of home-owners only too glad to put solar cells onto my (south facing, fully sunlit) roof.

A lot of the limitations we hear about are coming from current electricity producers, who don’t particularly want change, for the same reason the music industry didn’t welcome digital–because it will challenge and perhaps destroy their profit model.

But that doesn’t mean they’re telling us the full truth.

Joe: Cat, I am -fully- on board with the need for people to use less electricity, but many do not. I see waste all the time (light pollution at night is one example). I’m not saying solar and wind can’t work… however there are major technical issues (I’m “in” the electronics field so I know about it). Solar is great in the southwest but not so good in New England. Here it’s a nice supplement but you’re not going to run a house on it. Same for wind. One of the *major* problems with solar and wind is storing the energy for use when the sun is down or the wind is not blowing. There is no simple way to store electricity. Batteries may work for a homeowner installation, but they need to be replaced every few years and they have their own “waste footprint”.

Would I like to see the US be able to tell the Middle East “we don’t need any more of your oil”, YES. However I don’t see that any time soon. Gas powered cars will be here for a long time to come. Electric vehicles are making some progress but for many people they simply are not feasible. And, the power for their batteries has to come from somewhere (electricity from the power line that comes from coal, oil, natural gas, etc). It takes a huge amount of energy to power a car and electric is just not there yet. Electric cars (with batteries that have to be replaced) also have their own waste footprint.

Look at China… I saw a cable show the other night that shows MASSIVE growth in their interstate system (and a hugely increased number of cars, translation they will be demanding ever increasing amounts of oil to power them all). I truly wish I had a solution. I don’t. I conserve where I can (CFLs, heat down to 62 in winter, no AC in the house, van pool to work, dishwasher on full loads only, etc). If everyone did the same it would certainly help, but I would bet that everything THAT would save would be less than what developing parts of the world are adding to the load.

Cat: Actually, Joe, while solar won’t be as productive in New England as elsewhere, even in winter on sunny days, it is possible to run an energy-thrifty household almost entirely off the grid–I have friends who do so, though their fridge is propane and they heat with wood (unsurprisingly). And much of the year, much of the electricity of a single household can be generated from solar on that house.

If New Englanders can produce even 25% of our household and industrial electricity through solar panels–with some households generating 50% or more–that is a significant contribution. We need to be thinking about many small resources, not one giant solution! For instance, we need, here in New England, to turn our attention to small hydro generators again–we have the geology for it, and it’s crazy that we do so little of it!

Joe: We can do more–and, assuredly, as we reach peak oil, we will. Unfortunately, the longer we delay developing alternative energy, the more we will rely on coal and it’s destruction of habitat and air quality, and on wars, to help us bridge the gap as we near peak oil.

I also see opposition to wind projects. Kennedy himself didn’t want them (spoiling his view). Many super wealthy people in that same area opposed it too. “Regular” people in a CT town are fighting one big time. People say “I wish we could rid ourselves of dependency on foreign oil” but then when there are efforts to try and do that they say “No, can’t do that”. So what then?

Cat: Hydro… have you any idea of the bureaucratic crap you have to go to do something to a wetland? You practically need a permit to WALK in one! Hydro will help… but then you have all the issues that dams cause.

Joe: I forget what the “average” house uses… something like 720kW hours per month… (Or roughly 1000W of power being drawn all the time on average)… that’s a LOT of power to have to replace. Even 25% of that is a lot. Some people may be able to do it, but the “average” family would go into shock having to live with that change. Certainly it can be done… however the cost of the gear to do it is way out of reach for the average person. I’d love to have it, but I don’t have an extra 75k sitting unused!

I’ve said this before (although it would hurt a lot of people I know), I’d like to see gas go to around $8 a gallon so people would finally GET SERIOUS about conservation and investing in other energy technologies. At $8 a gallon many of those alternate forms would become “affordable”.

Cat: Average houses are going to have to use less. Regulations are going to have to become easier for both hydro and wind–though precautions to protect wildlife will need to remain in place, and yes, that will be tricky.

And don’t worry about gas hitting $8/gallon. It’s coming. Anyone with any sense knows this.

Joe: My Aunt’s house (built in the 30s) had 30A electrical service. Most houses today have 200A service. Although some appliances have gotten a lot more efficient one problem is that there are so many more of them. I think that for many people cutting back to the point where they’d be using 1/2 the power they use now would be near impossible. One thing I’ve been saying: shut the freakin’ city lights off between 1am and 5am. Who’s up to see them anyway? That would be a HUGE savings in energy long term. I’ve seen a few places doing that in small doses (because budgets are so tight) but it needs to be done on a much larger scale. When I am on a plane at night I can see tens of thousands of light bulbs from a few miles up. If I can see the bulb that is WASTED energy. Put a freakin’ reflector on it, send that light DOWN, and you can cut the bulb wattage! Common sense no? No technology issue whatsoever. Just stupidity.

Also forgot to mention one of my BIG conservation measures… got rid of all pipe heaters for animal water system (it used to use around 300W and would run anytime the temp was below 32) by using geothermal techniques. Now I only need one 25W bulb in the pump house. Even at 7 below my water never showed any signs of freezing.

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3 thoughts on “An Incredibly Literate Conversation Between Friends About Power

  1. A few more thoughts from Joe to challenge you:
    John…

    I have tried to minimize my use of power as much as I can within reason. I track my power usage and it (aside from some aberrations from time to time) has actually gone down some since I’ve moved here. However my bill is about 60% MORE than it was when I first moved here.
    A few more conservation items I do regularly. One, any fruit scraps (melon rind, strawberry tops, etc) I have at work (I always try to have fresh fruit for a snack) I later bring home and feed to the animals. Here’s one Cat would approve of: I travel a lot by air for work. On the longer flights where they serve meals (sometimes 3 times on a flight), they pass out a set of plastic silverware so you can eat. I typically only use the fork. However I *keep* the knife and spoon and bring it home and use it over and over (instead of tossing it out). I also use the napkins that come in that same pack. I also use all my shredded junk mail for animal bedding (it’s totally biodegradable).

  2. Wow… flattering to be posted here, even without the kind words first.

    One quibble: you’ve transposed Joe’s words and mine in these passages:

    (This was me)”Joe: We can do more–and, assuredly, as we reach peak oil, we will. Unfortunately, the longer we delay developing alternative energy, the more we will rely on coal and it’s destruction of habitat and air quality, and on wars, to help us bridge the gap as we near peak oil.”

    (This was Joe): “I also see opposition to wind projects. Kennedy himself didn’t want them (spoiling his view). Many super wealthy people in that same area opposed it too. “Regular” people in a CT town are fighting one big time. People say “I wish we could rid ourselves of dependency on foreign oil” but then when there are efforts to try and do that they say “No, can’t do that”. So what then?”

    (This was also Joe, not me.) “Cat: Hydro… have you any idea of the bureaucratic crap you have to go to do something to a wetland? You practically need a permit to WALK in one! Hydro will help… but then you have all the issues that dams cause.”

    Thanks for reading all this back and forth–never mind sharing it! *smile*

    • Readers: What she said… I’d correct it, but that would mean that people who subscribe would see it for the third time.

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