Throughout the presidential election campaign, we endured endless ads from two unusual sources. One was the endless loop of “Pickens Plan” ads and other other was the heavy rotation of nonsensical “We” ads.
If you’ve been near a TV at all during the last few months, you’ve seen both of these ads. In some ways the similarities are more telling than the differences with these ads. Both are focused on sustainability in their own way, both claim to be demanding renewable energy and both at least seem to be aimed at moving opinion leaders toward their approach.
But what are these plans and organizations all about? You certainly can’t tell from these 30 second ads. I decided to take a look.
The We campaign is being run by the WeCanSolveIt.org group, founded by Al Gore (full disclosure: big Al Gore fan here and I joined the group when it was first organized). The We group’s goal is to get the U.S. to 100% clean electricity in 10 years. The goal is so aggressive that you could be forgiven for assuming that their position is nothing more than a clever use of the Overton window. I, however, think it is an attainable goal. And, like Al Gore would probably say, it’s a goal that we can’t afford to miss. Sadly it is an expensive goal as well; although we could certainly use some infrastructure spending in America to kick-start our economy.
I’m excited about We because it puts our focus where it should be: moving to electricity for energy wherever possible and creating that energy with clean, renewable sources. And for those of you who are regular readers will note, that means you’re not burning anything. The technology is here today, but it’s not the cheapest energy in most cases. For example, let’s say you wanted to move your house to solar. You would probably pay something above $20,000 on panels and an inverter. Plus you’ll likely need a new furnace if you live in a colder part of the country. With an electric bill of, say, $100ish per month, you’re looking an incredibly long payback. There’s no way to move massive numbers of people to these solutions with those economics. This is why RE<C is such an important concept. In fact it’s the entire basis of this Web site.
Which brings us to the Pickens Plan.
Now I’m doing my best to give the plan an honest look, but readers should note that I’ll never forgive this sleazeball for financing the Swiftboat ads against John Kerry in 2004. Simply disgusting and immoral.
So with that bad taste in my mouth ignored, let’s look at Pickens. T. Boone PIckens rightly highlights the fact that our foreign oil consumption has risen for decades now under both political parties. He doesn’t mention how much money he made off that oil importation, however. His plan calls for a bold move to renewable energy, such as wind. But, as you’ve seen in his commercials, he notes the “technology isn’t there yet. We need a bridge.”
His bridge? Natural gas, or as he calls it, CNG. CNG stands for compressed natural gas (don’t kind yourself into thinking the C stands for clean. It doesn’t. Now natural gas does work in cars. Governments and taxis have used it for years. Now, what you may not know is that Pickens is the largest shareholder in Clean Energy Inc., a natural gas distribution company. Stations are already popping up around the country.
So is this “bridge” really just a bridge from your wallet to Pickens’ bank account? Hard to say, but it’s clear Pickens stands to make a fortune. Not that I mind someone making money from their ideas. I’m a proud capitalist and nothing would make me happier than making money by driving greater sustainability. But is there something else going on here? This Business Week article seems to show that there is. It seems Pickens is snatching up midwest land and driving toward a pipeline pointed toward Texas. For oil? No, this time water. Could Pickens be getting ready to step on the drinking water hose? Yikes! Could the plan to build a massive wind farm in the midwest actually be a water rights grab? I’m sure I’m not qualified to say, but the speed at which Pickens’ wind power plans were shelved puts quite a bit of weight on the wrong side of the scale.
From a marketing perspective, kudos to Pickens for a very clear, powerful marketing campaign. I’m a member of We, have seen dozens of their ads and still can’t figure out what their core message is. Do they want volunteers? Investors? Donations? I can’t tell! Weak! Pickens also shows how shooting some video of yourself in front of spinning windmills can’t help but make you look like an environmental hero. It’s a lesson John McCain used quite a bit during the campaign.
So the bottom line? Pretty simple, really. They just have different goals. Al Gore’s We group is 100% about climate change issues. He wants us to drop the carbon output of this country and fast. And rebuild our economy in the process. Pickens, if taken at face value, is focused on escaping the clutches of middle eastern dictators. An admirable goal, but one that is also solved with the We approach. Unfortunately, if Pickens’ plan were to work, it would actually extend the climate change challenges by extending the timeframe that our economy is based on burning a natural resource. Add in the worries over water issues and with Pickens you have the exact opposite of sustainability. Just more short-term corporate thinking from a billionaire.
If I could quote myself for a moment, I believe the path to true energy sustainability is found with these steps:
Step 1: Derive all energy from U.S.-based sources.
Step: 2: Move all energy sources to renewables.
Step 3: Separate each region and have each area provide its own power, for example, the northwest should be on its own grid, the southwest, the center of the country in one or two sections and then the northeast and southeast.
Step 4: Separate each state. I live in Washington and thereâ€™s no reason Washington state couldnâ€™t provide all of its own power. If it has excess, it could sell the remainder to other states that are suffering dips, but each state would take care of itself first.
Step 5: Each city should take care of its own needs. Same goes for counties. Seattle, where I live, should be putting together plans to generate enough power for itself. Itâ€™d be great for a progressive place such as this to be the only one with its lights on when the larger regional grid collapses.
Step 6: Next Iâ€™d love to see each neighborhood take care of their own needs as well. Imagine (relatively) smaller windmills hovering over city parks generating enough power for just the few hundred or thousand homes in the area.
Step 7: Last, but not least, it would be wonderful to see each home and business also taking care of itself. You can buy power off the grid if you need it, or provide 100% of your own power.
This approach offers great stability, redundancy and security. Economics are driving this move already, despite inept politicians and greedy corporations. The more we as businesses and individuals can provide for ourselves, the better off we are.
The Swift Wind Turbine isÂ another example of this approach brought to life. Found via Inhabit.com, the capacity is up to 2,000 kwh annually and should be available this summer. Swift’s Web site highlights the quiet operation as its main benefit, but I’d say the biggest advantage is its apparently ability to be deployed in an urban environment. Once wind power (and other sources) can spread into cities and suburbs cost-effectively, these devices will be as common as aerial TV antennas once were.
Sure we all love wind power. What’s not to love? But think about it: your average wind turbine captures the wind from a relatively small area in space.
The SuperTurbine concept (found via Ecogeek) addresses this problem by adding many turbines along a long axis. Follow the link to read more about the ideas, but also check out the way cool concept for a zero net energy building:
Following up on the post a few days ago on the Windspire, I found another inexpensive windmill worth a look. Found at the Alternative Consumer, the E2D WindMaster boasts an incredibly low price. The WindMaster puts looks aside and puts the emphasis on low price. You can tell at a glance that it’s a less expensive model, but for rural homeowners this could be a great solution.
One of my main frustrations in investigating these energy sources is the difficulty comparing different systems on an even basis. And I’m still challenged trying to determine what size system I would need. The reseller who first figures out a way to make this easy for consumers is going to make a fortune.
UPDATE: From the comments: Reports are surfacing on the Internet that people who buy this one aren’t getting their product or a refund. Big thanks to Trent Sexton for keeping us on our toes!
There’s a lot of concern trolling going on these days related to solar and wind power. The most recent I found is probably the dumbest. Yep, they’re saying solar is way more deadly than nuclear. No I’m not kidding. The (tortured) logic of this argument is that the number of people killed by, say, falling off roofs installing solar makes it a more dangerous (by number of human deaths) than other forms of power. Even if this were true (hint: it’s not), the more intelligent approach would be to improve safety techniques and equipment vs. just dismissing an entire industry. There are construction deaths all the time, should we just not build anything ever again?
This is all part of the general strategy of old energy industries like oil and nuclear to muddy the waters. Oil might be destroying the planet, but hey, windmills kill birds!! You don’t hate birds, do you? To further muddy the waters, they love to throw the word “clean” in front of their products. “Clean” coal, Environmentally friendly propane. “Energy Solutions” from Shell Oil.
There are issues worth examining when it comes to new energy sources. What are the impacts of solar panel construction? Do windmills kill birds? If so, in how great of numbers? And what can we do to help limit this collateral damage? For more information, check this out.
We need to ensure we’re not being suckered by an industry that has made the highest profits ever seen in the history of mankind. Their marketing can blur the lines about what the right decisions are for us as a society and cause hesitancy when decisiveness is needed.
Birds might be dying from windmills, but bats might be dying from cell phones and we don’t see the same uproar. Why not? If windmills are killing birds, let’s find out why and make them safer. But let’s keep things in perspective.
After all, there is another energy source with a history of killing birds.
Photo courtesy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.
Woohoo! Good news out of Reno, Nevada via Jetson Green. Mariah Power is now taking reservations for Windspire, their $3995 vertical axis wind turbine. I first wrote about Mariah Power and the Windspire back in September.
The price is a critical component of a successful small wind venture because, as I always say, if it doesn’t make sense financially, it’s not going to take off. We need massive scale changes to drive real energy policy reform.
I’ve written about several interesting small wind options coming up in the near term, some have even been deployed. The Windspire is one of my favorites because it combines great power output (1.2 kw) with attractive looks, low maintenance and quiet operation. The Mariah Power folks have also thought through the objections that would cause a consumer to hesitate a purchase of this sort:
Installation is simple, and can be completed by a professional installer in a matter of hours. The Windspire kit comes complete with everything you will typically need, except the concrete, so installers do not need to source numerous other components. Once installed, you can “plug ‘n produce” – plug it into your outlet to begin drawing power from the wind. Alternatively you can have it hard-wired into your building. Regular maintenance is limited to a couple of minutes a year to oil the bearings, located 9 feet above the ground.
Plus they’ve added some sizzle features, “The Windspire also includes an internal wireless modem that can continuously transmit power production information directly to your computer so you can check your power production at any time.”
More positive news from the travel industry as Sofitel hotels, owned by Accor North America, has made a deal to supply the power for all of its hotels from wind power. As I noted the other day, I take special notice on developments in the travel world, having spent nearly a decade working in it.
Not unlike the Aveda ad I posted some time ago, theÂ deal is actually more of an offset concept, vs. actually installing more windmills directly (which wouldn’t be the easiest thing for a hotel chain, obviously.)
“We’re proud to step up as a leader in our industry and to do our part for the environment,” Robert Moore, senior vice president of technical services for Accor North America, said in a statement.
It’s definitely a good start in the right direction.
I’m always a sucker for a fun new homemade gadget so I was pretty excited to find this page with lots of great home windmill experimentation.
After all, a windmill at its most basic level isn’t all that complicated. We’ve got some blades or other mechanism for causing the spinning, a generator and then a means to transfer the power back to where the energy will be used. And a generator is pretty straightforward as well. Just a coil of wire and magnets. At least that’s the theory. Be sure to follow the link above to find out what it really takes.