Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two roads to power

There are basically two ways to power your home. One way is to connect to the power grid. The other way is to generate your own power using any number of small scale alternative systems, or any combination of systems.

One way one requires you to pay every increasing monthly bills. When the power goes down you wait for the power company to fix it.

The other way, when the power goes down, you pull out your toolbox and get to work.

The grid way requires very little besides money from the homeowner. The homeowner doesn't need to know if the generated power comes from a big hydro plant, coal, or nuclear plant. Maybe a portion of it comes from a big wind farm; he doesn't need to know.

The home system guy knows plenty about his power system. He may have installed it. He knows how to do basic maintenance and repair.

Grid guy may occasionally get surprised by a huge power bill. If his power usage suddenly goes way up, he won't know about it until the bill comes in.

The other guy is aware of his power usage. If something is suddenly drawing a lot more power than normal, he's going to track down the culprit in short order.

Grid rates may suddenly take a huge upturn. Grid guy's got two responses, reduce usage, or become home power guy.

Home power guy pays a lot up front, but then goes long periods of time spending little on the system. Occasionally he has to change batteries, or upgrade equipment. Most of those expenses are not a surprise as the equipment has known life expectancies. Saving a little money each month should cover it.

The grid is a huge system requiring enormous capital expenditure, an army of trained technicians, and massive distribution systems.

Home power systems vary tremendously in size, sophistication, power output, and cost. While there may some tax breaks, no public money is used in their construction.

The different power systems have hugely different political ramifications. Grid power is centralized power. Not just electrical, but political. Centralized government is needed to make it happen. State power dictates power generation and distribution by regulation and taxation. The state collects taxes all the way down the line, from the power source (coal, uranium, oil, dams) to the physical power plant, to the power lines, to the wages of all the workers, to the taxes on every watt that comes into a person's house.

The home power system dilutes and destroys state political power. Most of the tax structure just goes away. The state may regulate the installation of small alternative energy systems, but often weakly or not at all. The state makes little money off the home power guy, if any at all.

There are philosophical and psychological effects that should not be ignored. The grid power guy looks to centralized power to solve his problems, both electrical and political. The home power guy is self reliant, electrically at first, but that attitude may affect his politics. Self reliance in electrical power will encourage him to become self reliant in other areas. Regulations on his home production -restrictions on the installation of solar panels or windmills for example, put him at odds with the state. It has encouraged guerrilla alternative energy. People just do it. They may pick a location not visible to their neighbors or the road. Perhaps he'll use solar shingles that look like regular roofing shingles. Apartment dwellers may just hang a panel out their window and power a small system. The state is not the source of their power, but an obstacle to it.

The big grid systems are hard on the land: mining and the burning of polluting fossil fuels, the horrors of nuclear waste, and even the destruction of salmon runs by dams.

Home generated power tends towards solar, wind and a bit of micro hydro. While there may some fossil fuel generated power, it's limited due to cost and annoyance factor. There are no power corridors needed for transmission lines. Home systems are easier on the land and more sustainable.

If the state was more interested in sustainability and the environment, they'd promote home power alternative energy systems. They really don't want that. They'd loose too much money and political power.


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