Can you name this skyline?
Yeah, But What If...
"No battle plan has ever survived;
once the first shot was fired"
If only we had waited...
OK, this is one of those commentaries that describes what might go wrong once you commit to a renewable
energy solution based on the current technology. For comparison I'd like to remind everyone that is
reading this that the computer you are using will be obsolete in less than 18 months. Not to say it'll be
useless, but you'll be able to replace it for 1/2 of what it cost you to buy it.
Moore's Law applies to information
And the machinery that processes data. Bits and bytes are tiny. From the dawn of man we've used
things to record data, information, bits that are a trillion-trillion (10^24) times larger than they needed to
be. When the baseline is that wasteful there is lots of room for improvement. Even our most
efficient computer cores still use thousands to millions of times more energy to 'use' a bit than
Information Theory requires.
By the dawn of the 20th century
Our mechanical devices were flirting with single digit efficiency percentages, and our electrical devices
were already within the shadow of unity. A large generator of a even a century ago was well over 90%
efficient. Not much room for improvement on the electrical side. We've done well on the thermo-mechanical
end. We went from Henry Ford and the Wright brothers to the Moon in less than 75 years. Then we hit
a brick wall...
That's the introduction, now it's batter up.
For 50 years Fusion Power has been...
Just 25 years away. It's like the cure for cancer; a horizon never attained. I'm certainly not
advocating we abandon the hard challenges. What I'm saying is that only looking to the future is a good
way to waste the opportunity that presents itself today.
If a practical device that controls the fusion of Deuterium is perfected in the next few years, then your
solar power genset will never pay for itself; or will it? Let's say the price for generated power at the
reactor went to $0.00 yesterday. Here in New England there is still a delivery cost for energy that on my
bill totaled up to about $0.072/kWh -- so much for too cheap to meter!
Let's say Doc Brown really does pop back here from some future time with "Mr. Fusion". It's
difficult to imagine that an electrician will come out to hook the device up for less than a few hundred $$$,
probably $1,000 given the instant demand that will be created. And even if the gadget is made in the
cheapest third world labor market, the device won't be free, in fact the price if the device will likely be
dictated by what you would be able to save. That's more dollars leaving the US economy, and more national
debt; strike two.
To Serve Man
You know you gulped when she yelled "It's a cookbook!". Without too much speculation as to
whether ET is friendly or not, there is still the issue of deploying the new technologies. Something tells
me that unless the aliens are almost as powerful as "Q" (as portrayed by John de Lancie in ST:TNG)
that there will be more chaos that we know what to do with -- even if they are pure and benevolent.
So civilization is collapsing, regular folks are refusing to work; there's no incentive to put shoulder to
the wheel when all material needs are met. What will you do while our world transforms into an
interplanetary culture? What will you do while the abundance spreads? Even this is a case of better
safe than sorry. Let's call this one high and outside, ball one.
The change up -or- new low hanging fruit
Let's say massive new oil fields are discovered in oh say New Jersey. Right near the refineries -- high
grade crude, no sulfur, no alkali, only 100 feet deep, refinery ready black gold! The price of gasoline
& diesel drops below $1/gallon and we start buying gas guzzlers again (3rd wave). Even if all the
fossil fuel fired power plants suddenly found their fuel bunkers & tanks suddenly full of coal & oil,
there is still that pesky transmission cost, plus the O&M at the power plant. Electricity gets cheaper
but it's still not free! Fouled off -- one ball, two strikes.
The hanging curve -or- turn off that light
Everyone agrees that conservation is a good thing. Really, who among us can standup and say "I
think its a good day to be wasteful."? And as long as conserving isn't cramping anyone's lifestyle
we're not likely to see resistance to conservation; maybe a little forgetfulness, but not hostility. Polls
have shown that the average American can shave 10% without feeling the imposition of conservation on his/her
lifestyle. But cutting back beyond about 25% and the feelings of deprivation start to push back. We all
know what happens next. Fouled off again -- still one ball, two strikes.
Fastball inside -or- technological advances
We spoke of Moore's law. Technology is improving, gadgets are getting smaller, they do more, batteries
last longer, but we've got more gadgets. But there are some gadgets that were as good 40 years ago as they
were ever going to get. You guys that haven't done laundry since college, the clothes dryer uses just as much
energy today as it did when the Apollo program was capturing the nations imagination. It still takes the
same amount of heat to evaporate 5lb of water as it did when a new washer/dryer was a fabulous prize on those
new TV game shows; Joe Garagiola hosted one, but before that he could being that inside fastball back into
the strike zone so fast the camera would miss it, but the ump calls this one ball two.
The electric car
Talk about how the next generation of vehicles will get 100 MPG based on hybrid, and plug in technology is
encouraging. A study in California in the 90's showed that if just 10% of the cars were plugged in at the
end of the day, the resulting demand would black out the state. There isn't enough capacity if generation,
there isn't enough capacity in distribution. This doesn't make the electric car a bad idea, it simply
points out that it's not sufficiently developed for mass adoption. Foul ball 2 and 2.
If by some coincidence homes had their own energy supply say a solar genset that could store the energy for
their electric car... (sorry that pitcher threw to 1st base)
There is even a movement trying to influence lawmakers that a technique called V2G (Vehicle to Grid) will
reduce or eliminate the need for new generation. I'm skeptical. Where is your car during the day? At
the office. Is you're employer going to merrily and obliviously send you home each day with a battery full
of juice? Or worse will your employer expect you to report to work each day with the electricity you need
to do your job? So much for V2G. Fouled back into the press booth; still 2 and 2.
What might actually happen is...
Nothing. Well almost nothing... Simple inertia. Things will continue to grind along at the same
glacial pace. Fusion will remain in the laboratory, and in thermonuclear weapons. NASA will find ET
but it'll be a slow growing bacteria that is incompatible with Earthly DNA & RNA. Oil reserves will
dwindle, as new wells are found deeper and deeper, there reserves will be labeled as $100/bbl, $200/bbl,
$300/bbl etc. creating a new government agency to track them. As the last of the hoarded incandescent
light bulbs burn out, we'll finish the conversion to LED's, and Mary Kay will introduce a new line of cosmetics
to cover the ghastly look the new light sheds on women that are not models. We will spend foolishly on
'Energy Star' appliances and gadgets simply because the government subsidizes the purchase, chasing that
ephemeral 1-2% boost from 96% to 97%. Out vehicle fleet will gradually transform again. Will we
experience another generation of ugly cars? I hope not, but I've got a sneaking suspicion. This outcome is
a pitch in the dirt.
The real justifications are
Buying power from the utility is a known cost component for business and it's deductible operating
expense. Taking control of your energy future has risk and opportunity costs. A prudent businessman
simply looks at the cost/benefit and says no thank you. This is why my banker said: "You need to create
more fear." Well here goes... In comes a sidearm throwing southpaw, 6ft 6in 260 lbs if that doesn't
induce fear I don't know what will.
He's got patches on his jacket. The camera zooms in and we read:
National Debt, Deficit, Unemployment, Inflation, Housing Bubble, AIG, Fannie Mae Freddie Mac, Citibank,
Wachovia, Chrysler, GM... Be afraid, be very afraid.
The count is full and this is where the page starts to end
Sorry, no outcome, no resolution, nothing definitive. This little essay was a look at what *might*
happen if you commit to a solar genset. It also might happen it you don't. None of us knows what
tomorrow brings. But if these are the things you're worried about... If these are the reasons that
you're using to justify inaction...
The Light is Green!