Right now, Phoenix Arizona is in pretty good shape as far as the ratio of electrical production to demand. We have the Palo Verde nuclear plant, just west of town. As long as it keeps from melting down, we should be okay for a few more years. Unfortunately that facility ages day by day, and to keep up, we’d have to get more new power plants in the works. There are a few projects going up, but just not enough compared to the energy we use. New power plants are not easy to get built these days, because our political representatives are so fixated arguing about today’s problems, they can’t even fathom looking toward tomorrow.
But it’s already tomorrow! See the economic crisis? See the destructive climate patterns? See the incredible political and social problems that the countries of the world are facing? Here we are, in the tomorrow that everyone ignored before today. Some good that attitude did us.
Meanwhile, back here in Phoenix, sitting pretty with our nuclear power plant, which creates piles of deadly nuclear waste, and we have no place to dispose of it. The folks in charge don’t seem to see it. Apparently, radiation sickness isn’t loud or ugly enough to get our attention, so we as a society, allow it to continue. Why do we allow this, when there is a better answer, which we already have right here right now? The Solar community is baffled.
Greed is one thing, but if they’re gonna rip us off, couldn’t they at least do it with clean power?
The most promising new energy construction in Arizona lies in the solar arrays SkyPower and others are building on your neighbors’ roofs. And we’re glad to be doing it. But all the solar houses in the Valley combined still make only 1% of the total. The number of people going Solar is limited by incentive budgets and all sorts of artificial political criteria, and meanwhile, we’re NOT adopting Solar fast enough to offset the realistic demands we see just a few years away.
So, what happens when folks want more power than there is at any point in time? Remember that electricity in the wires is very much like water in a hose … it flows “downhill” to a lower pressue zone where it’s needed. The system works only when there’s power in the pipes, ready to go. But if there aren’t enough electrons (electricity), then it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, there will be no power when you flip the switch. This is called a “black-out.” It can last a moment, an hour or longer. Fortunately, “refilling” the wires is instantaneous once the power plant gets going again.
What if the power company already knows that they won’t be able to make enough electricity in the coming days and months? They could behave as if they just didn’t know and let the city go to blackout whenever this happens. This is bad policy, but the power companies in some areas do it anyway. If you shut down one district and then another in an organized way, you’d have a “rolling black-out.” They use this method in California. It’s better than getting a blackout by surprise, but if we took care of the electrical demand, we wouldn’t run into this situation at all!
Another solution (if you want to call it that) is to simply put less power in one area after another. This is called a “rolling brown-out.” This is what they’ve been using in Tokyo, Japan to deal with the supply/demand issues following their spring of ecological and nuclear disasters. Even without earthquakes and tsunamis, the USA is headed in this direction simply because of our differing rates of electrical production and consumption.
Some appliances, mostly the older ones, won’t notice much. Washing machines will run slower, electric stoves won’t get as hot. Lights might be a little dimmer and again, you probably won’t notice.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” you say. But be careful. Newer appliances and things “digital” need a certain amount of power to run at all. Regular TVs will work but HDTVs won’t. And the cable and internet won’t work either. Computers? Forget about it. All our devices will shut down in a brown-out. IT’s not the end of the world, but why put ourselves through this at all, when we’ve got more than enough electricity shining down on our houses in the form of sunlight. A more adaptive policy toward Solar, on behalf of the government, and individual home and business owners, and we’ll nip this problem in the bud.
Or are you the type of person who waits for things to get really bad before you admit that there’s a problem at all? 80,000 SRP customers experienced a blackout on a 115 degree day this summer. If that wasn’t you, maybe it’ll take another year or two for the problem to hit home. Maybe your particular brand of air conditioner will just happen to work in a brown-out. Maybe we can keep up with our heads in the sand, and stave off this boogieman a little longer. But whenever the time does come, it will be “right now” in that moment, and you’re not gonna feel good about it. Maybe it’s only after you’ve suffered without it that you will consider getting Solar for your house and supporting politicians with a sensible energy policy.
A lot of us moved to Arizona because it’s supposed to be a place that works, where people are smart and self-reliant, and take care of their needs. Now we’re watching other parts of the USA and the rest of the world run into serious infrastructure decline, and meanwhile we have the perfect lifeline dangling right in front of us. Yet, we don’t grab onto it because we’re so sure extreme weather and nuclear meltdowns and dysfunctional politics only happen to other people, that it won’t happen to us. By the way, the people in Japan didn’t think it would happen to them either.
Are we really that arrogant? Are we really that dumb? Is this really how we want to run our state?
When the rolling brown-outs start, let’s not even worry about all the money you could be saving between now and then. Your solar neighbors will have working air conditioners and refrigerators, and you won’t. You hope one of them will invite you over for some iced tea, and then we’ll see if you still think that the need for Solar is just too far off to be worth it.
If you have any questions, please call Jay Leopold at 480-290-2040 or email Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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