Are Alternative Energy Technologies Relevant?

We are spending a lot of time looking at potential energy solutions – solar, wind, hydro, geothermal … anything and everything. There’s a lot of knowledge to be acquired and there are a lot of companies looking to sell their products and solutions.

The one thing they all have going for them is a promise of a so called better day – super efficient solutions to basic needs, making better use of the environment, lowering carbon foot print and what not. It’s all very appealing … but our overall impression is that most of these technologies are not relevant for us.

Experimental

A lot of these technologies are still experimental – there simply has not not been enough experience with these systems to get a clear picture of what they can do, how well they can do it and for how long. If you factor in mind diversities such as climate, culture, lifestyle, natural resources … then the picture becomes even less clear and conclusive.

If you are considering such systems you are probably better off thinking of them as experiments rather then solutions. Experiments are a process of trial and error that may or may not lead to a workable solution. Make sure you have a capacity for experimentation – because no matter what kind of promises and guarantees you will hear from product manufacturers – there  are more unknowns to their products then they care to admit.

Complexity

A key factor in any solution we consider is both it’s simplicity. The simpler the solution the less likely it is to break down and the easier (and less costly) it is to fix when it does happen to falter.

When the luxury of electric windows started appearing in cars they failed alot which was very bothersome (not  being able to roll-up or down a car window) and terribly expensive to fix. It took somewhere between 10 and 20 years to reach a point where the simple mechanism of an electric window became reliable.

In addition, the last 10 or 20 years of production seem to have suffered a drop in quality. There was a time when a washing machine was engineered to last 20 or 30 years, now most machines falter after 4 or 5 years. New machines are also so complicated to fix that often it is cheaper to throw them away and get new ones instead of fixing them.

This meeting of complexity and experimental doesn’t invoke confidence.

Indulgent

Most of the technologies are prohibitively expensive. We can’t help but feel that they are a fashionable indulgence more then feasible, ecological, responsible solutions to energy challenges.

Our meeting with these technologies (as is the case with most of the other people we know in this context) takes place in the context of moving into a simple and sustainable lifestyle – where do-it-yourself replaces consumerism, where money is a limited resource and where finance is not welcome. The price entry barrier is so ridiculously high that these technologies are simple not relevant.

Availability

Alternative energy home/residential products seem to be widely available in the USA and some developed west-European countries. They are not easy to come by in Romania (and I’m guessing in many other places) where they can be of great value (i.e. a self-sustainable village home).

This is another sign to me that these technologies are still more of a fashion then actual feasible solutions. They are highly available for the rich to play around with (and feel they all green about themselve as they consume copious amounts of energy) rather then where they can be best leveraged.

Production Waste

Looking at a lof of these solutions makes me wonder about how much ecological waste was created when they were produced. This is an often overlooked aspect of ecological solutions – they may run efficiently and saved you a lot of money – but how much of an ecological foorprint did they leave behind them when they were manufactured?

Overall it feels to us that this is not a good time to get involved in most alternative energy technologies. Any temptation to actually use them are tempred by the lack of clarity, complexity, limited availability and prohibitive costs of such solutions.

We will be looking into technologies which are simple, affordable, well established and relatively predictable such as photovoltaic and hydro-electric solutions.

We will be re-examining every aspect of our lifestyle to see where we can consume less and make the best of what we do consume.

We will be trying to create simple and feasible solutions using tried and true solutions, local knowledge and our own common-sense.

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