Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Power's Back On

Once again, it rained and snowed and the problem we had last year with the combination inverter/battery charger happened again. The inverter is fine but the battery charger stops charging. 10 golf cart batteries combined with a way too small solar panel and a gas generator is our sole power supply. Works adequately in good weather but whenever we get that icy cold rain/snow combination that problem with the battery charger happens and the whole thing falls apart. We managed to hook up a spare automobile battery charger to slowly get things running again last year but it didn't work this time. Still, after a day and a half of trying various things (and a slight weather change) the system is now up and running.

It's easy to look at the situation we're in and see it as a poverty stricken one. But in this SAME time period we have friends throughout the United States living ON the grid reporting that, because of these weather patterns, they have been without power for the better part of a week! 5 days, even longer. And hardly anyone knew how to do ANYTHING but sit and wait for the electric company to get the power back on. The level of dependency is shocking in comparison.

The level of power creation we're living with here in the desert is a bit shaky. Barely adequate, takes a fair bit of daily attention, but it's supporting FOUR people—all of whom love to be on their computers, on the internet, while the TV is on. We're running a regular washing machine and dryer now. We also have a refrigerator and dishwasher.

Paul and I went to the local solar energy store in Snowflake where we inquired about what it would take to replicate exactly what we have today. About $5000 -- NOT counting the local regulations and federal government tax break we would get that would allow us to receive 25-30% back provided we could afford to spend the full amount we needed upfront. Add another $1000 and a second bank of batteries and we could stop using that gas generator (except as a back-up) altogether.

Oh, by the way, that's at retail. If you were to start a solar and wind-buying co-op you might be able to swing wholesale rates AND get government tax credits and the like. The solar energy store would like us to spend $35,000 for what they think is a dependable system... but let's be real here. A single fiber optic cable was cut -- melted actually by a hot water pipe bursting -- in Duluth, Minnesota last week and completely crippled the entire North Shore. Imagine if an earthquake or, let's make it scary, a terrorist attack were to disable more than that. Or, say we REALLY, want to reduce the level of our dependency on fossil fuels, avoid the most catastrophic predictions of climate change, or enable ourselves to use those oil reserves for a lot longer while we get even better fuel sources up to snuff. Under those conditions, $3-5000 of improvements per house would mean a lot!

In 1928 Herbert Hoover ran on the promise of a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Oops.
Now the battle cry we might need is solar panels on every roof and a windmill in every backyard.


Sheryl Karas said...

On a related note, I wonder how much electricity could be generated simply by hooking up a generator to every exercise bicycle and other such thing in the country. I bet fitness centers could generate all the electricity they need and then some! :-D

Even better, have a gym in every office building and improve employee health while helping to keep the lights on everywhere in the country!

Sheryl Karas said...

Address healthcare AND energy use all at the same time! :-D

Mel said...

There is a university somewhere that has hooked up their gym to make electricity. I read about it a while ago. You're right. All the gyms should be doing that.