What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Monbiot, solar panels, and consumerism

This was posted in over on facebook on Dave Hampton's profile in reference to the post from George Monbiot regarding feed in tariffs on monbiot.com.

I've seen others get bogged down in a single leg of the bottom line triad when they should know better, Economy (which seems to be the quicksand they all get stuck in) is no more important than Environment and Equity. Indeed, pursuing it at the expense of the other two is a false economy. 41p per kWH might seem alot but when you add up the fact that solar panels pay back the energy to make them within 2 to 5 years, are then completely carbon neutral, don't require huge inputs of water (unlike any thermal energy production including CSP), don't require continuing extraction of resources to provide energy (usually at the expense of local people), and if taken in the context of other electronic investments (when was the last time you heard of a TV with a payback period?) are a particularly good investment. I generally agree with Mr. Monbiot but I have to differ with him here.

At which point there was a post referring to solar PV systems as a a green version of timeshare and that scam merchants across the UK are taking advantage of well meaning greenies and trhat these systems will never payback the expense of their purchase to which I replied;

A lot of scam merchants are going around the UK selling television entertainment systems for thousands of pounds, this cost will never be paid back in the lifetime of the owner, nevermind the life of the electronic consumerist propaganda machine. When was the last time you got a savings on any bill from using your television more? When was the last time you heard of a television that was guaranteed to provide the service you bought it for, for the next 25 years? Quality solar PV panels will do both and in most cases will continue to produce power beyond the warranty period.

However, I would partially agree with your statement, Michael, about solar systems that are grid tied. These systems reinforce business as usual in many cases as they are designed as add ons to poorly designed inefficient houses and lifestyles. Research has shown that conservation only improves 10% or less after installing such systems. That is not to say that it can't be better and that grid tied systems can't play a role in reducing demand if properly designed and accompanied by rigorous conservation behaviour.

We must drastically reduce demand! YESTERDAY! We need systems that help us to do that....

IMHO, If you are serious about the "green thing", your best bet is to go off grid with as many circuits in your house as possible, build the PV battery system yourself, and carefully design it to enforce deep conservation of electricity to the point of being able to rely on the off grid circuits as close to 100% as possible. This strategy precludes consumerism of entertainment oriented electronics, electrically heated devices (which may require a complete green renovation of your house which you should do anyway), stand up fridge freezers, hair dryers, electric cooking, and generally wasteful behaviour. Having done this myself in the past and being in the midst of planning a project to do it on a much larger scale, I can assert that I am not naive, and that the savings (which includes the savings from not buying all the electrical devices you can't power as well as the savings from going DIY) will indeed pay for the system both in terms of finances and regarding the other 2 E's mentioned above. Admittedly, it will require the right site and enough panels to do the job and won't work for everybody but even if you take 1 circuit off grid it will be worth it as it reinforces a powerful ethic of conservation. It also gets you started with a small system that can be scaled up as finances allow. If you do this you will soon see that putting your money into self reliance is always a good investment.

There are scam merchants everywhere and folks need to look seriously at the suitability of their site and budget before embarking on such a plan.

Here another post queried the quality of solar PV particularly in comparison with nuclear power.
Here is my response.

A good tool is as good as how well you use it. For me, an economy based on consumerism and endless growth is the problem. Any tool that helps us move away from that paradigm is worth using, tools that reinforce business as usual are not. A solar panel, or a wind generator for that matter, is a tool that gives a reliable amount of power and when coupled with a reliable storage system (based around 96% recyclable or better batteries) will do so for may years with near zero maintenance, power that is consumed within feet of where it is produced with minimal extraction of further resources (periodic battery replacement requires some due to the 4%). I don't know of another technology that is nearly so elegant. Intermittent, yes, requiring of mindful attention to our behaviour, yes. All it requires is that we use it properly, this means change. IMHO, It is the change that people are resisting.

My problems with nuclear are many; it requires massive inputs of carbon rich materials at the front end and the back end. It requires continuous use of minerals extracted from the earth in a very damaging way that requires massive quantities of energy rich water supply, and huge quantities of water are also required in the operation of the plant. Waste is clearly a continuing problem, as is security. Having said that if we are going to continue to strive for endless growth and consumerism it will require a massive base load supply, I favor nuclear over coal which has all the same problems but on a scale that is much worse (excepting perhaps security), I favor CSP (concentrated solar power) over both as it is based on the sun directly but has similar issues with water. I favor large scale deployment of wind farms over all of them.

I suspect that some combination of the two paradigms will be required; for me it is drastic reduction in demand through the deployment of off grid microgeneration to help people restrict their consumerism while at the same time replacing coal and nuclear with wind farms as we scale back grid supply, if this requires rolling black outs until we get our demand under control, so be it.

My personal philosophy is that if it doesn't further sustainability it is not worth doing.

"Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." -- Peter Drucker


Jamie Bull said...

It seems you've been a lot more dedicated than I have to this blogging thing! I've just taken it up again after a looooong break and have a couple of posts that might be of interest to you based on this post.

Take a look over at http://ococarbon.wordpress.com - there are a couple articles about the EROEI of electricity generation and balancing, and also one on lock-in that could do with some deep green sustainability discussion.

C Robb said...

Thanks for stopping by Jamie. I'll check out those posts. I'm further into the project I mentioned above and am seriously considering a grid tied system to sell my power at about 20¢/kWh and for the tax breaks. At the same time I'm planning on building a DIY off grid system for our personal use. I'll post more about it when I make a decision. You can see posts about the state of our project in more recent sections of the blog.