The infographic from One Block Off the Grid highlights why I worry about my household’s electricity usage. Granted, as I pointed out in an earlier post, my household, on average, uses a lot less electricity than even the lowest state’s per household amount. However, resiliency, in my opinion, is about reducing my exposure to the almost guaranteed increase in the cost of electricity that is to come in the future.
Another reason to be concerned about your household’s electricity use is the growth in natural gas as a generation fuel and the continued use of coal.
Coal’s problems are well established. No matter how cleanly it is burned, coal is a dirty fuel. From mining through to combustion the list of problems is long. Whether it is mountain top removal or bad practices at mining companies or mercury or soot or some other pollutant, coal is a bad actor when it comes to energy. It’s cheap and the U.S. has a lot of coal, but that does mean we should be burning the stuff.
Natural gas seems like the better choice. It’s cleaner than coal on almost all fronts—although its clear superiority has been challenged as of late. However, hydraulic fracturing or fracking has come to the forefront as a concern. The U.S. is entering a so-called “golden age of natural gas” as fracking has opened up huge deposits of gas as viable operations across the country. The growth in gas production is starting to rearrange the entire energy infrastructure as coal is replaced en masse for energy generation and the petrochemical industry gears up to take advantage of this new found bounty.
But the environmental concerns are legion. The process of fracking is suspected in the poisoning of sub-surface water and the wastewater from the operations sits in polluted lagoons waiting to cause a problem. Don’t think vast pools of wastewater are a problem? Just ask people affected by the coal ash disaster in Tennessee or residents near manure lagoons after a flash flood. It’s as nasty as it sounds.
But, if everyone used less electricity—that oh so dreaded concept of efficiency—there would be less need for any kind of electrical generation. Furthermore, the percentage of the total generation regime that renewables accounts for could increase because polluting sources like coal and natural gas plants could be taken off line or reserved for peak load moments.
Distributed generation, e.g. photovoltaic systems on residential rooftops, figures into this equation greatly because it places electricity generation near the loads. In some regions solar PV dovetails nicely with peak demand because the prime solar generation hours coincide with the hottest times of the day and, therefore, with peak demand for things like refrigeration or air conditioning.
Then again, this all just sounds like hippie utopian thinking. Damn Ecotopia!