I live on an island. I live near the southern tip of Whidbey Island which sits in Puget Sound like a geographical battleship coming in from the north. Storms usually come from the south, not the west, because the Olympic Mountain range steers the winds. Leaves and anything else that is loose in my neighborhood easily end up in successive neighbors’ yards. The power of the wind is easy to feel. Ironically, it also teaches the utility of electricity because the wind frequently knocks down the power lines; especially when the storms switch and come from the north and tumbles trees leaning the wrong way. Alternative energy is not just an academic concept here. It is necessary to keep many homes livable.
Relative to most Americans, I don’t use much power, at least not directly through the lines. Unless there’s a party going on, there are usually only one or two lights on. Why send photons bouncing around rooms that I’m not in? I even use candles because I finally realized that sometimes I had light on just for ambiance, to put some living light into a shadowy corner. So, when the power goes out, the biggest change is that the screen in front of me goes black or the music stops. Then all I need is enough light to read a book.
Some of my neighbors though are more tied to 60 hz power. Automated generators kick in as soon as a line is cut. The street lights and most of the houses go dark. It could be a peaceful night, a time for quiet contemplation, but gas and diesel generators chug to life, frequently marginally muffled. Most of them are maintaining basic appliances; e.g. refrigerators, hot water, computers, etc.; but some houses are brilliant, every window lit and even the outside lights brightening the siding. They stand out in stark contrast to the more pragmatic and frugal homes.
People love power of all sorts. I doubt that any purposely turn their homes into beacons as billboards advertising their wealth or superiority. I can imagine some doing so as insecurity. Humans’ fear of the dark would have very viable evolutionary roots. Some may be proud to demonstrate that they are the prepared ones, the ones who are responsibly ready for anything. Ignorance probably accounts for many though. They may not be aware that their power is coming from their generator, or they may not even be home. Many in this neighborhood are vacation houses. The generators know no logic and churn out electricity whether anyone is there or not. That may be the most noise heard inside some of those living rooms for months.
The preferred alternative energy source is an internal combustion engine capable of generating a few thousand watts as long as it has enough fuel. I suspect that some are working from propane. I haven’t done a survey. That’d be snooping.
Imagine instead though, that they’d captured that wind from the storm, stored the energy in batteries, and then quietly worked independent of the grid. Nature provides the power that produced the destruction. Find the positive in that negative.
But we can’t. Covenants written in the early sixties dictate that no such structure can be erected. Of course, things have changed since then, but many of the people haven’t. For many, acceptable behaviour was defined in the fifties with a few modifications up through Nixon’s era.
Alternative energy is required to sustain anything like our current standard of living. Within fifty years, a suburban lifestyle that is reminiscent of Happy Days will require infrastructure more like independent farms or innovations and inventions that some consider sci-fi.
The technologies exist, though for now the prices may be steep for folks like me. For a few thousand, portable multi-source generators can be bought that can be wheeled into a driveway. They can capture solar, wind, operate a small generator, or fill a battery. Wind turbines about the size of suburban TV antennas of old could charge batteries, or directly operate a few appliances. There’s plenty of roof space for solar cells, though winter storms happen when there isn’t much light.
Ah, but there are those pesky height restrictions, and neighborhood appearance considerations preventing anyone from erecting turbines.
Some of the biggest problems we face switching away from conventional power plants is simply changing attitudes, showing people that alternatives can actually be more attractive than forever embracing an increasingly anachronistic norm.
As an investor I also look to see the trend within. That’s why I am invested in American Superconductor (AMSC), a big-infrastructure company that dramatically improves powerline efficiency and enables large wind projects. Personal trends are changing slowly enough that utilities may lead the way. I’m also invested in Real Goods Solar (RSOL) because there are individuals who recognize the current situation, and who are in a position and a location that allows them to implement intelligent solutions.
In the meantime, I am going to upload this post without much review. The wind is up and the power may glitch again; and then I may just go for a walk down to the water and watch mere wind pick up tons of water and toss it feet into the air as the waves are driven into the sea wall. Power doesn’t always come through a three prong outlet. Nature delivers it in many ways.