Power Plus: The Central Argument

14 08 2012

It’s time to revive an old series of articles I wrote at the now defunct ethmar.com (assuming nobody picked up the domain name) called “Power Plus”. They were an exercise in thinking about how energy (electricity) is generated, and how it is consumed.

Rather than re-hash all of those arguments, let’s review my contribution to the Bumper Sticker discourse, and I am of course available to speak at TED, assuming it is a short drive from my home.

My operating thesis for the future of energy generation and consumption is simply this:

Energy will be generated where it is consumed.

TED people. Call me.

My model for this claim is the solar-powered calculator. Rather than being in an “always-on” state, the solar calculator is turned on manually and powered by a small solar cell, even under a light bulb if enough sunlight is not available. Solar calculators do come in dual-power models, where rechargeable batteries take over when solar isn’t an option, but “pure” solar calculators came first, if memory serves, and in any case that’s the way it was when I had my first exposure to a solar calculator.

The down side was when solar power wasn’t available, the display would dim and become useless.

Enter the former punchline, the solar-powered flashlight.

The solar flashlight uses a solar cell to keep its internal batteries charged during the daytime (when you ostensibly do not need a flashlight) so that it is ready to use at night (when you may have a more pressing need, such as a night-time power outage).

In both cases, the flashlight and the calculator are “off the grid”, and do not require a wired power source to operate.

Our homes, speaking as someone in the United States, tend to be very dependent on a wired power source. We receive our electricity from “the grid” which is usually maintained (if not provided) by a central energy company. Locally, it’s We Energies. The power plant is visible from my front yard.

In turn, a power plant generates electricity using various means: Burning coal, burning natural gas, using wind turbines, using geothermal energy, using nuclear power, or hydroelectric power.

By and large, most (if not all) conventional sources of energy are capable of generating a significant amount of electricity which in turn can be distributed over a grid to a specific geographical area. I don’t know how much of Wisconsin is powered by the plant within view of my home, but it’s safe to say that several towns (including mine) rely on the electricity that this particular plant generates.

When “alternative” energy such as wind or solar power is dismissed out of turn as not being suitable to meet demand, my question is, the demand as determined how?

I’m going to invoke Pundit’s Privilege (I’d rather be heard than correct) and assert that such dismissals are rooted in the idea that electricity must be transmitted from a central location and distributed out over a grid.

Next in the series: What if… there were no grid?

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