Wednesday, August 11, 2010

energy shouldn't be... STRUGGLE

Energy shouldn't be struggle. But it is.

We come into sparse contact with the production of energy such that it is out of sight & thus out of mind. It is often an afterthought until we have to pay a bill, fill a tank, etc. But we pay very close attention when events create a higher state of awareness. For example, a power outage, hurricane damage, fires, earthquakes, other natural disasters, shortages, price hikes, oil spills, coal mine explosions, refinery fires, etc.

A few years (2005) back in South Florida, there were three hurricanes that hit the area: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, & Wilma. At this point my growing interest in energy related matters was already about a year old. And I'd have conversations about these issues. As a result of these storms, many local residents lost power. Some for a few days. Others for a few weeks. These storms came through at a time of rising gasoline prices at the backdrop. And after storms, there would be long lines at gas stations for fuel & at supermarkets for ice. It can be tough as we've all grown accustomed to having these things. But losing it gives us the ready reference of appreciation.

Anyhow, an acquaintance shared how he was uncanny in being able to avoid much of the chaos. He told of how he had two generators that was sufficient to run the refrigerator, lights, & a couple of fans. He ran them 12 hours at a time switching them out to change the oil & refueling a few times during the course of operation. At the time gas prices were around $3 per gallon and the talk was of it reaching $5 per gallon. It never did. So, this acquaintance told of how he filled up his boat he had in the backyard with fuel before the storm to help weigh it down for the storm & to have fuel for the generator in the event of power loss. Lucky him. Two generators and a readily available, headache free fuel source. He ran this routine for the 5 days he was without power.

So naturally, interested in how this translated in dollar terms, I started asking pointed questions of how much it cost. He was also interested because he thought it was such a great feat to have power and avoid these harrowing lines. After much discussion, we discovered that for changing the oil, filter, & refueling the generators (@ abt $3/Gal), he spent the equivalent of $300 in 5 days. Multiplying this daily amount ($60/day) by 30 days equates to $1,800 per month. His typical monthly electric bill was $250.

What does all of this say?

In a time of need, he was willing to pay over 7 times ($1,800/$250 = 7.2) his normal electric bill to power a portion of his electrical needs. He didn't think about the cost, he knew he just needed power for his "basic power needs."

Why is this important?

We all take it for granted that we will always have readily available energy sources. And, at times, we don't always act responsibly with it and waste it. We also know how it impacts our daily lives & the environment. And we talk about making changes. Yet the only thing that has changed is perhaps the seriousness of the dialog. Change has been slow, lethargic even. Many talk about these issues but few are really equipped to sort through all the issues to even understand the complexities of the energy debate. And the layperson doesn't have time to get into technical details of what's what. The need as illustrated in my story is very clear. The need to act is unquestionable.

We sell & install solar in South Florida and here is some of what we hear:

It's the future.
The price needs to come down.
The government needs to do more to help.
I want to put solar panels on my home.
I'm tired of waiting.
I want to do my part.

When you're in business to supply solar panels & installation, and not enough folks are buying. You cannot justify staying in business. So, it shouldn't be any surprise that some have already closed their business. No one wants to be a statistic. VES will be okay because we have a robust mix of offerings. But, with these mixed consumer signals, it leaves one to wonder:

When will the need for solar be very clear?
When will we need solar enough to just act?

The promise of a clean energy future can be fleeting. And Energy shouldn't be struggle. But it is.

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