Losers are users: The alchemy of electricity.

“Why is electricity so expensive these days? Why does it cost so much for something I can make with a balloon and my hair?”
Dennis Miller

Recently we’ve been reconsidering our relationship to electricity.

The first step is admitting that you are addicted to electricity.

The second step is realising you are powerless when it comes to the use of electricity.

When we camp we often live for weeks at a time without electricity. Nature tells us when it is time to go to bed and when to get up. We cook with a small gas burner. We wash in rivers, and we unplug from the internet, mobile phones, laptop computers, and clock radios and life goes on.

Electricity isn’t a necessity, but it is very useful. Unfortunately, we only seem to consider electricity when an expensive bill arrives in the mail.

There are many ways to conserve electricity and keep the bill low. There are so hundreds of sites on the internet about saving power so I am not going to bother listing methods here. I trust you can find the information if you are interested.

Like many other areas of life our default start position is that nothing is essential.  However, if our life would be too uncomfortable without the thing then we figure our how best to attain it. Once we have decided that we cannot live without something, in this case electricity, we go to the next considerations.

First we ask…can we make money from electricity? Can we transform this liability into an asset that will deliver a monthly a payment to our mailbox rather than a bill? In the case of home electricity it is actually possible to receive a payment if you own the power plant.  However, if we can see no money making solution we’d then investigate free options, then cheaper alternatives and so on.

Of course generating electricity requires that we have some technology that can produce a surplus that we can sell back to the city grid.  The basic means of generating your own power include:

1 – Small wind turbine (if wind is greater than 2 mph)

2 – Hydro turbine (if your property boundaries with a stream)

3 – Solar (if there is adequate daylight)

4 – Energy cells (check out exciting emerging technology like Bloom Energy)

A typical house in my neighbourhood uses 25-30 kWh per day, but we use far less.

An affordable install of solar panels (~8m2) will generate 2-5 kWh per day during daylight hours.

Unless you have a rushing torrent a creek or stream is likely to generate less than 1 kWh per day.

Wind turbines typically produce about half of their rated capacity once the minimum wind strength is achieved. This means a turbine rated at 5 kW will probably generate slightly less than 2.5 kWh per hour when the wind blows. If it was windy for 10 hours it could supply a good deal of your household energy requirements. The problem is that more than a couple of hours of good energy generating wind gusts is unlikely in many areas.

Depending on where you live you could combined all the approaches and generate power from water, wind and the sun and still fall short of the average energy requirements for an urban household.

The other consideration is the costs to set up the various options. If for example you loaded them all it would sting you for $40-50,000, which would make it too expensive to be a realistic option. A wind turbine will run you $10,000, solar about $20,000 and hydroelectric technology will run you at least $10,000. You also need to factor in general maintenance, heavy maintenance and replacement. There is also considerations like costs for replacement energy storage (batteries) which can wear out much faster than solar panels or a wind turbine.

Most affordable and available solutions are still some way from powering an average home, but what if power use was dramatically lower than the average? I know several people who have daily energy use of about 3 kWh. I have also read about one family that only pays for 3 kWh draw per month. That is extreme energy conservation. Think cold showers and everything off almost all of the time. Since most bills are made up of the fixed line charge and the variable use charge and most of their bill would probably be fixed charges, it might be worthwhile for this family to reconsider having energy at all!

At the minute we feel it is too expensive to generate our own electricity unless we can convince our neighbours to agree to a community initiative where we all share costs. A community approach is also a smart way to install a noisy wind turbine if your city’s building code requires that you gain agreement from your neighbours.  They are likely to oppose the unsightliness and noise, but they might find the view more pleasant and the sound sweeter if their power bill were $100 lower every month.

Technology marches forwards and we expect that very soon we will have an affordable alchemy recipe to turn electricity into money.

Until then we acknowledge that we are addicted and we try to manage our addition day by day.

3 thoughts on “Losers are users: The alchemy of electricity.

  1. If only Tesla was alive today. Tesla coils may be cheaper to make than turbines, but they do look scary with the lightning it attracts, but they are harmless.

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