Will there ever be self-sufficiency in energy?
During the housing boom that followed WWII electricity was still considered a modern convenience rather than the necessity it has become. Think about it in the late 1940’s how many homes had television, or a central HVAC system? Not to mention computers, stereo, gaming consoles, and so on. In fact many homes still used “ice boxes” instead of refrigerators. As time has passed the need for more electricity and more outlets in our homes has increased with each decade. Now here we are in the 21st century and our homes are still designed and built like electricity is a convenience more than a necessity of modern life. How many of us could do without our cell phones, refrigerators, water heaters, television, computers or the internet indefinitely?
I am in constant wonder about how easily modern homes can be rendered impotent by such naturally occurring events such as high winds. “Super Storm Sandy” and many other storms just this season have emphasized this fact. Our modern-day world relies on the availability of a constant supply of power, and without the power our modern world ceases to exist. Without a supply of potable water a home’s livability is hampered but unlike power water can be transported to our home without a great deal of trouble. Without power our homes livability is severely diminished and unlike water power is not easily transported. In most cases power on the scale that is used in a home must be generated.
So then, what are some solutions to grid power outages? Natural gas or fossil fueled emergency generators set to automatically come on-line in the event of a disruption in the grid provided power. While these backup generators are initially less expensive to install, extended use fuel and maintenance costs make these systems more expensive than their solar and wind alternatives. Portable generators, usually fossil fueled are a temporary fix, but portable generators must be stored, have operating fuel available and be hooked up. Solar panels and wind turbines would be the best way but not all areas of the country benefit the same from either wind or solar. The initial expense of wind or solar systems is enormous considering the age of the technology and wind turbines are not practical in many places.
To most people it would be a given that their home in the largest single investment of their lifetimes, so why are the homes of today that depend so much on electrical power tied to a grid that is subject to the whims of forseeable and predictable seasonal events? In the 21st century mind-set of residential design and construction should be energy self-sufficiency versus electrical grid dependency. Along with the energy self-sufficiency should always be designing and building for energy efficiency. In a 21st century market should we not be designing and building for 21st century home owners and the needs of those home owners?
Our existing electrical grid generates power constantly whether there is a need or not. More and more during peak usage periods, large metropolitan grids are subjected to “rolling blackouts” or brown outs in an attempt by the power generators to keep up with increased demand. There is no way to store massive amounts of power. With more homes creating their own electricity and allowing the grid to use the excess the less the strain would be on and already overworked grid. Already the producers of electricity are in a constant battle to stay ahead of increasing demand and replacing aging equipment. This battle is expensive and the price is always passed on to the end-user. Would it not be better if today’s new home buyer had a choice about the future cost of maintaining what is necessary to all modern homes?
Bill Tucker – Design Professional
Gould Design, Inc.