I’m gradually working towards lowering my energy consumption without lowering my quality of life. I’m attempting to be as frugal as a mouse as I continue to live well. My goal is to eventually be able to produce all of my own power. Here’s a little experiment I just ran.
Look at these two photos. Can you tell the difference between them? The quality of the light in one is slightly different than the other. But in both photos the room is perfectly well illuminated.
In the first photo there are six lights imbedded in the ceiling, each burning a 50 watt MR-16 halogen bulb.
In the second photo the room is lit by a single 5 watt LED bulb powered by a USB rechargeable lithium ion battery pack. That battery can keep the light burning for a very long time on a single charge. The six MR-16s produce a brighter light, but they use 60x the power as one LED. Getting consumption down really low makes producing your own power that much cheaper and easier.
I explored the possibilities for solar panels. There are options where panels can be leased from a company that installs them on your roof with no up front cost. Or you can buy the panels and own them outright.
But here’s where things get tricky. All the numbers associated with these solar installations currently include subsidies and net metering repayment rates that are highly politicized and in flux. Nevada and Arizona – the two most advantageous solar locations in North America – have both just reversed course and poisoned the well for new grid tied solar installations. Traditional utility companies pushed back hard against distributed power generation just as serious momentum was building. This is to be expected from the dinosaurs.
I like to compare the current electrical grid to the old telephone system. There was a time when there were big heavy black telephones with a rotary dial tethered to the wall. They were very reliable, but there were limits to what they could do. And long distance calls were expensive. Then cell phones arrived and suddenly the old telephones became obsolete. Now even very poor people all over the world have access to high quality low cost communication.
If home based power is to survive these political battles against centralized authorities there will need to be a physical work around that skips over the utility grid in the same way cell phones skipped over land lines. Battery storage is the key. Several companies are in the process of launching home energy systems that can function off the grid at a price that’s comparable to most major home appliances.
Energy is different from technology. One doesn’t readily substitute for the other. But ever more efficient and affordable products keep coming on line. With some not-too-challenging lifestyle shifts that reduce energy demand it should be possible to have a modest but highly functional home that makes and stores its own power beyond the political fracas.