Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A simple proposition

Here’s the question posed the other day:


If the power company offered you $180 a month to disconnect from the power grid for 1 year, would you do it?


I’ve spent the past 12 days camping out at the Casa Suburbia without power and I’ve said it before, I’m not miserable in the least.  It certainly takes some getting used to, but once you settle into that pattern, it’s really not so bad.  Of course, it’s not July, it’s not 1000000 degrees outside, and I have no serious medical conditions (or jovial ones, for that matter).


Normally, we use about 1500kWh per month—somewhat north of the national average of about 900kWh.  In the summer it’s more, in the winter it’s less, but that’s probably a safe estimate for total consumption.  Electricity in Texas is also somewhere north of the national average of 12 or 13 cents per kWh, and if I do some rudimentary math the bill runs, on average, about $150 or so.


Needless to say, if the power company were to pay me an ADDITIONAL $180 on top of the savings from unplugging entirely, that’s almost a no-brainer.  Would you put $4000 in your pocket to cut off your electric utility?  Hell yea, I would. 


Here’s why.


Without electricity you quickly learn to use less—in fact, you quickly learn to use none.  There are certain things you’ll eventually want to plug in, and that need can be accomplished with a small scale acquisition of a generator.  Those are loud and require gasoline.  That’s NOT a long term solution.


Ok, so you have to figure out A/C, refrigeration, and washing machine (clothes lines work remarkably well for dryers).  Add a computer in there and maybe even a television and, for some, an alarm system for the house.  Those are baseline necessities plus a few luxuries on top.  You can basically spend a year figuring out how to minimize that consumption so that you can actually power your house with a series of solar and wind solutions effectively eliminating the need for the grid anyway.  Then, when your year is complete and you’ve banked a cool $180 for a year (less some expenses for changing over to the new power convention) you have reduced your carbon footprint, reliance on central power, and passed on some more affordable, sustainable, and socially healthy lifestyles to your children (and quite likely some neighbors, as well).


So, then the more significant follow up question is this:  if the power company doesn’t offer you a dime other than the money you save from flipping the switch off, would you still do it?


What if every time you turned on a light you thought “I have 5 hours of power available to run that light”.  Would that change your consumption pattern?


What if every time you fell asleep while watching TV you considered the drain on your home’s central power storage system and that 1 hour nap cost you a load of laundry, or the power to cook dinner on the stove, or the next cycle of your compressor for your A/C or refrigerator?  Would that make a difference?


I think it might.


Mind you, I’m not an advocate of scarcity of electric power, but I am an advocate of conservation.  Unfortunately, an abundance of affordable electricity runs exactly counter to the desire and need for conservation and reduction on the reliance of central power.  Just like “cheap gas” and “fuel conservation” don’t exactly go hand in hand. 

I don’t know if a cap-and-trade system on utilities and companies alone would do the trick.  The average household may have to be included in any kind of market like that.



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