Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Energy Coolness and Ideas

Since energy and money have been on the minds of all Americans, discussion of interesting ideas might as well occur. As in discussion that goes beyond "f*cking gas prices, blech". That's the average comment I hear at lunch. I am not sure if the blech is about gas or the lunch. One of the problems facing the energy solution is similar to many other problems. The gatekeepers do not want the little folks to take away some power.

Media outlets and newspapers cannot stand blogs because suddenly there is another place to go for news or commentary. What blogs have shown is that you can sit at home, watch a game, speech, event, and write eloquently about what you saw with the same skill as a "pro". It's not like these people have any special skill, especially compared to the many English majors floating around America right now. Similar to the newspapers, the energy companies are facing challenges from consumers, upstarts, and rising material costs that might take some power away from them or may force them to change the status quo that has been so profitable. If you start installing solar cells or windmills at people's homes, you reduce what those people use from the big company. It cuts into profits. A company in California is incredibly smart, and is attempting to head consumers off at the pass. This is a brilliant idea. Other companies should look to do this as well before the cost of PVs and thin film gets so low that consumers can install them with their own cash and cut the power companies out of the equation. Same goes for electric companies on the coasts with windpower. My hometown now has a windmill and is contemplating allowing homeowners to erect them. I lived for a year right where the windmill is now, and believe me, the wind will pick up. Is it a good idea for people inland, no, but the town has enough coastline and people living right on the beach to allow them to do it. Electric companies should get out ahead of this (and also build pebble bed and regular nuclear reactors).

One thing electric companies should consider is that as people transition to plug in electric cars to avoid $5 or $6 gas, there needs to be a provider or a super smart distributor. The grid can handle a switch to electric cars. That article startled me that we could handle 84% of the car fleet going to plug in. We're going to need more electricity production though for all needs if we don't conserve elsewhere, but how do we get it to folks? The electric companies could be the big winner in the switch to electric cars if they slide in and replace the oil and gas companies with a distribution network. One idea I had cranking through my mind was setting up plug in terminals in parking garages or at corporate parking lots. Creating an offshoot from the grid at that location shouldn't be hard, but finding a way to charge for the charging is the trick. I say create terminals that can accept credit card swipes. Card is swiped, plug goes in, charge up and charge ($). If the plug comes out, charge stops and cannot be restarted unless card is swiped again. This would prevent others from stealing a charge. Once a car is charged up as well, the light can go green, meaning the plug can be taken out and used in another car. I have written before, but in the Southwest, the potential is to put a solar array as an umbrella above the terminal and have the charging station be there. If the electric companies were smart, they would make these "spark hydrants".

Peak Oil or Peak Energy does bug me out a bit, but I think the potential is there for amazing solutions that will change how we do basic things, how we look at life, and who controls the basics of life. Solving the energy problem facing us and the possible global warming issue can lead to huge power grabs by big government or it could lead to rapid, grassroots style changes by packs of individuals, investors and small business owners. I can only hope that a dramatic need for change causes people to take more control over their lives rather than surrender it to others.

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