Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Grid

Meet Garrett Collins from Boise Electric Services. (Use this link to start the video at the point when he arrives.) He came to fix the pipe and wires that got bent and broken when the tree that's on the ground on the other side of him bounced off our house on its way down. (He did great work, too.) It was a little tree, and old and dead and dry, so it didn't do much damage to the house, and missed everything else but the outhouse and the stairs on the way down.

Our power's been out twice since Mr. Collins was here about a month ago. When I say 'our power' I mean the ~3100 households affected every time anything happens along our particular trunk line, which is often and sometimes takes days to fix - a scenario that too many, both urban and rural dwellers, can relate to these days. Dude and I have long held that it would make the most sense if every structure were powered using nearby available sustainable resources. Garrett agrees, which is nice to hear from someone in his line of work.

I'd like to see power derived from petroleum products reserved for operations too large or power-needy to be supported by renewables alone. If most buildings were running under their own power, then when any one went down the extra power the rest are supplying would be available to sustain that one until repairs were completed. Wide outages would also be eliminated. There will, of course, be consequences in removing energy from any of the available systems, whether wind, water, solar, via hydrogen, or any other, but if we spread those consequences across resources rather than relying solely on one type the consequences will be mitigated as much as is possible and still have electricity, which few of us really want to do without.

The argument sometimes arises that some people might not maintain their equipment, and then those around them would end up carrying those people. This is probably true, and for some people it might be onerous to have to give away some of the power that, once a building is fitted to produce it, is essentially free. Give those people the option of being off the grid, but if a household is paying for power now a portion of the money currently (no pun intended) going to that would cover slightly higher homeowner's insurance or could easily be set aside to pay for equipment maintenance just as is done for any other home-ownership-related expenses when people have money to put away. On the other hand, a consumer could rent or lease equipment from the power company or other sources as well, who would then be responsible for maintenance.

The equipment will be capable of producing the same amount of power no matter where that power's going, and it won't cost more to produce to the limits or near the limits of a building's production capacity than at lower levels. Using renewable resources, that capacity is likely to vary from building to building from day to day. If a producing building's batteries are full extra power would go to the grid, but wouldn't have to travel as far to its destination as most of our power does from its source, therefore reducing transmission losses. If a building is producing less than it needs, power from the grid keeps its batteries topped off.

Put power companies on government salaries, replacing the consumer's power bill with a slightly higher-than-current tax (until such time as other dead weight is trimmed out of the budget) and tasking the government with seeing to maintenance of the power infrastructure using current power company employees, or at least those willing to take what's likely to be at least a bit of a pay cut. Gub'mint salaries ain't that great, but the bennies are pretty darn tootin', and electricity used to be a luxury but now it's a necessity. Where it can be provided, it should be.

Under this system, at least some power is likely to be available in any given area when there are natural or man-made disasters. Even if there's severe damage some types of power will continue to function, helping with survival and rescue efforts. Also, more of what can potentially fail in an electrical system is within our own reach to deal with if the source of power is at our house. And when it does fail, we'll call Garrett and get it fixed. :)

The Grid: We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build a less negatively impactful, more sustainable and stable world power supply by working at an individual level. Let's do it.
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