I the vast world of alternate energy, it is hard to find a starting point for which every day citizens can do their part in the expansion of this sector. In the coming years we will see growth in infrastructure, research and development, technology, exploration, and various other fields that will require a certain degree of specialization and education. This unfortunately will fall outside of the scope of the broader population’s learning curve. In fact, it will likely leave a large percentage of the population far too under qualified to be productive members of it. With that in mind, they will still need to be compliant in aiding this sector, regardless of their qualifications.
So how does this happen. How do you educate an older generation on becoming part of this new generation, or at least serving a role in it. Likewise how does the new generation learn the fundamentals of the older generation when they’ve grown up in such an entitlement era?
From my perspective as someone who grew up right in between the two generations I described above, I believe the most effective way to approach this is with separate but related short and long term views. From a short term perspective, the two most basic areas that stand out as places we can ALL chip in are: Auto and Home. (It’s fairly obvious to say this) From a long term perspective, education will stand paramount to the success and evolution of our economy. With those basic premises in place I will now flesh out how I believe we can most effectively hit the ground running.
The Green Revolution will have many micro revolutions contained within itself. In the grand scheme of things, cars will be running electrically, homes will be self sufficient, energy will not be wasted, storage will be minimized, free market energy networks will be created and most important of all… Conservation will be encouraged through real life incentives. …and all of this will be born from the seed of 1 simple little device/concept… Net Metering! Sure these things already exist, and can evolve on their own… but I am here to say that the course of these major evolutionary/revolutionary steps will be changed and guided by the simplest of things. For lack of a better analogy, (and what may prove to be a perfect analogy) the home computer was an amazing tool that took on a whole new life with the assistance of 1 simple thing. The Internet! A simple phone line jack to a port in your PC meant access to “the grid” of information. The Net Meter will be that same conduit to which the home will become an interactive member of “the grid” of energy.
In its most basic terms, Net Metering is best described as the “net use” versus “net creation” of energy within a household. Utility companies already provide Net Metering devises for homes that have the ability to create energy. (Solar is the most common source. …but wind, bio, hydro either already exist or will soon.) Rather than just create or harness energy for your own house, (which then gets stored and used as you go) this net meter allows the excess energy that you’ve captured to flow out into the energy grid. While this energy flows outward, your meter runs backwards. When you use more energy then you are creating, the meter runs forward. …and at the end of the billing cycles, your net inflow or outflow is either paid or charged to your house.
Competition: (energy cost/price of the free market)
Currently, the utility companies across our country are regional monopolies. When your net meter comes to a negative (outflow), the energy provider pays you pennies on the dollar in relation to what they charge you for a net positive (inflow). This can easily be justified by the utility companies since a Net Metering Homeowner does not bear the cost of the energy grid. (servicing, maintenance, employees, R&D, etc…) This is where competition comes in to set the correct price that utilities could or should pay.
Based on the basic logistics of household energy: During the day while the sun is strong, houses are generally using little energy. By taking that energy and exporting it, you are minimizing the need for energy storage. Then at night, when the house is most commonly using more electricity, you then pull back from the grid what you need. During summer months, when the energy grid is pushed to its extremes, houses will also be producing much more energy with greater sun exposure. With that in mind, we would want to transfer energy use to places that are using energy during the day. The prime locations for dimporting daytime energy use are to transportation and business. This leads us to the next steps, which will be a smart/er energy grid. Local “Intra-Grids”
At a local level I see the most potent brokers of this Intra-Grid as Oil companies/nations. Aside from the obvious “reinvestment back into America”, and the marriage of their commodity to its eventual replacement, gas stations are already strategically placed around the US (and the world) as logical locations for power absorption and redistribution hubs. Their local placement would help maximize lost power from lengthy distribution points. By Gas stations evolving into local power / recharging stations, they can offer their local community another option into the free market energy sales. This would give the Net Metering homeowner an option to weigh, as they would then decide which would be more profitable. This would also lead to you local utility monopoly offering you a more accurate rate of return for production versus conservation. (Brokering this deal with potential suitors for Intra-Grids will turn out to be a costly investment that will likely reap substantial long term rewards of continued energy demands. I look to explore these options heavily within the BrainTrust / EA community for those on board and interested.)
Conservation: (Resolution – Incentive = Failure)
The greatest trick the older generation owns in the modern era of energy consumption, is knowing how to exist with little to no energy consumption! (or living within their energy means) Its lesson will be learned by generations that have only known infinite supply. To best establish this lifestyle of living within your energy means, there can be no greater incentive then a “hard dollar” profit for conservation. Current programs that are already being put into place like smart meters (in California) will teach homeowners about their energy use, but lacks the real life incentive to alter lifestyle changes as the gain is a “soft dollar” one. (I can walk to the train and save $4 dollars. …or just swipe my card, ride the train, and get charged $4. This is “soft dollar savings”. If I had an option to walk to the train, and get paid cash upon arrival of $4 when I got there… I would likely be more inclined to not swipe my card and ride the train! This is a “hard dollar gain”. From a psychological perspective, the hard dollar gain is more attractive, (even though technically there is no real difference) …but for the exception of “competition” which the free market would set to a better price of potentially $5, $6+ for walking, thus making it a no brainer beyond just the psychological desire.)
Storage of Energy / Transportation of Energy:
Two of the larger problems that the green revolution faces are storing energy and or transporting it through the grid without losing too much power. By using power and transporting the excess, you are either minimizing or eliminating the need for storage. The cost to savings ratios are instantly maximized when additional expenses like these are minimized. With less need for production, creation and supply of the extra/unnecessary storage units, we win environmentally and become better situated to put those raw materials to more efficient use. Likewise, with the current grid, transporting energy (electricity) over long distances has a wasteful loss associated with it. An average rate for transmission and distribution loss is over 7%. Shorter neighborhood Indi-Grids would instantly cut the losses by connecting to these local power/refueling stations to the neighboring sources of power.
In the interim prior to the creation of a car that recharges while driving, the refueling stations will just switch from providing gasoline, to providing new charged batteries, or actually charging your existing batteries. (the evolution of these stations will have to be well coordinated with the auto industries concepts for refueling) In the long term, rail transportation, both human and freight will eventually be the ultimate recipient of this localized power.)
Turning your house into an asset rather then debt center:
As a worst case scenario, if your house at least provides you the ability to sustain your energy consuming necessities, then the homeowner profits from the energy creation. If net metering actually affords you the ability to turn your house into a profit center, where you are rewarded with the best returns the free market could provide, and profit incentives heavily promote conservation and efficiency… then we all win!
The Debt Center:
When the asset that is supposed to be the “safest” long term investment turns into the “riskiest” investment someone could make, then there is something structurally wrong with the economy and the investment. For the prudent home buyers who saved 20% (the standard “safe” buying practice) of the value of the house they are looking to purchase, only to see that principal value washed away after it’s purchase, then effectively, the home owner is wiped out in what amounts to nothing more then a bet of red or black at the roulette wheel. For this asset to not be put to productive use compounds the debt center it has become, since all it will do is continue to drain your savings through the power grid. For this debt to be allowed to compound its loss, it demands an immediate reevaluation as a useful entity.
For those who feel this concept is too far out of the box, or too far in the future… I believe it is time that you must take a moment to reassess your views. The time is now. The economy, and your way of life is about to change. It is the speed at which you adjust your way of thinking and embrace the next logical steps of the necessary evolution we must make towards energy efficiency, will shape the future path we need to be on. This is only enhanced by the relation to the depreciation of our current assets and the loss in opportunity cost by us not taking advantage of these forward thinking prospects. Just like we saw the coming effects of this economic downturn, but sat indifferent on the sidelines, the eventual global impact of our indifference will lead to an environmental downturn that will not be accompanied with a stimulus package. Mother Nature will not bail us or our children out. She is a cruel bitch. A terrorist of our own creation. …and the excesses we know we are abusing, yet do little to nothing to alter, will be more catastrophic then any economic disturbance.
All the best,
P.S. Education (long term investment)
The construction of this new arena will be created in the world of engineering. Civil Engineers need to know how to recreate or refurbish all aspects our infrastructure. Electrical Engineers will work the grids, create efficiencies, and develop new technology. Mechanical Engineers will design the cars of the future. In the vast world of educational opportunities, I feel that someone looking for direction would be well suited to at least consider exploring the hundreds of engineering fields that exist, and see if they appeal to their interest. I see opportunity knocking very hard on this door.