The Cruel Irony Of Green Energy
My city has a water problem. We have two sets of water pipes in our city. One set has the culinary water. The clean water that we use for cooking and bathing and washing and drinking. And then we have the secondary water. Secondary water is untreated. Not fit to drink. But, it’s great for our lawns and gardens. In addition to the “potableness” of the water, there is one other big difference: the cost. Unlike culinary water, secondary water is free.
Not just cheap, or discounted. It literally is “use all you want” free. And that’s the problem. What’s the point of conserving what’s free?
Did I mention I live in a desert state? Water is a pretty important resource. We never have enough of it. We all agree that it should be conserved. And therein lies the irony.
I’m putting solar panels on my roof this summer. Well, I’m not doing it. Some nice guys with a big truck will show up next week and put panels on my roof. At which point I will start using the power of the sun to power my house. Economically, it’s pretty much a break even investment for the first couple of years. After that, assuming the utility rates continue to increase, I start to get a greater return on investment. The payoff on the loan is 10 years. I think the break even point is about 7 years.
Of course, if the sun goes out, I’ve totally wasted my money!
Solar panels do not allow me to go “off grid.” In fact, our nation’s fascination with alternative energy, especially wind and solar will never be much more than a supplement to traditional energy until we solve the storage problem. We can’t store energy. Not really. So, after I become a solar power plant, any energy I don’t immediately consume will be pushed back on the grid and my utility company, Rocky Mountain Power, will give me a credit for my extra watts. Later, like after the sun goes down, I will pull power from the grid. And in the winter when the sun isn’t out as much, or it’s stuck behind a cloud that is dumping some of the greatest snow on earth on my house, I’ll be able to pull electricity from the grid.
To cut my link to the utility company would require a set of batteries in my garage. And that’s currently full of important stuff like skateboards, boxes of Christmas ornaments and my shop tools.
Anyway, as we’ve considered the impending installation, I realized that I will be gaining relief from the utility company, but I will be giving up a great teaching moment for my children.
The guy who sold us the solar system did some calculations based on our energy usage for the past year. He recommended enough panels to meet our current needs. That means that I’m going to essentially be energy neutral; generating as much as I consume. And, discounting the cost of the panels, which are a fixed cost, my variable costs for energy are zero. It’s free. And why conserve what’s free?
Today, when my kids leave their light on, or they hang the doors open while the air conditioner is running I can fall back on the “it’s wrong because you are wasting energy.” After my panels are put in place, I lose that argument. My children will learn that there is no value in conserving. And their eschewing of conservation will be because we equipped our house with clean energy.
Just as our city planners have a difficult time convincing people that the “free” water needs to be conserved, I have to convince my kids that we still need conserve when the electricity is free.
Perhaps it won’t matter. Perhaps energy, like wifi will become cheap enough that it will be essentially free. We could build entire buildings with solar panels on the outside and perhaps make them, like Tony Stark’s headquarters, completely energy independent. It’s a few years away, but it’s an intriguing possibility.
In the mean time, my kids are going to learn that conservationism means never having to conserve: a cruel irony, indeed.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved