February 13, 2012

Renewable energy can augment dwindling resources

What will we do when petroleum fuel gets even more ridiculously expensive and hard to find?

That scenario may be more likely than you think.

“If we are lucky, and there are no sizeable collapses or wars, we probably have 10-12 years of a fairly broad peak in petroleum production in which to get our act together to start looking at the next plan down the road,” said Charles Woodward, who owns Natural Resource Co., Victor, ID.

Woodward spoke at an energy efficiency workshop at the Driggs City Center, sponsored by the Snake River Alliance.
“There are no more surpluses or energy cushions,” he said. “There is no place we can buy more petroleum at a reasonable price if somebody decides to shut off the tap. As production no longer meets demand, we will experience significant price increases for all petroleum products.”

Changes in the oil situation will most likely have an impact on transportation fuels.

“If oil and gasoline become extremely expensive, what you'll see is fuel switching, which will drive up the costs of other sources which can be converted,” he said. “It will just spread the pain. All energy sources are linked somewhat, economically.”
Small communities, including mountain locales, can be particularly vulnerable to drops in petroleum fuel production.
“Any community, which doesn't have good jobs nearby to support its people, will probably lose those people as they move to places where they can live close to where they work,” Woodward said.
“It's also going to affect the tourism scene tremendously, as fuel goes out of sight. It's going to require big changes toward public transportation.”
How can we run a society with less transportation fuel and with less liquid fuel? One answer is alternative, renewable energy sources.

“The Teton Valley has seen a recent influx of projects related to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Stimulus-related grants have allowed Driggs and Victor to install energy-efficient street lighting, and both communities have solar projects in the works,” said Liz Woodruff, energy policy analyst for the Snake River Alliance.

“What people need is services — hot showers, a refrigerator to keep their food cold, a house that's comfortable and warm. They're not interested in gallons of propane or kilowatt hours. They need services,” he said.

But people need to learn how to obtain the services they need as effectively and efficiently as possible.
“We need to look at how we use energy, how much do we each use, and the philosophies of energy use.” Woodward said.
He suggested doing a personal energy audit.
“Figure out all the ways you use energy; all the different types of energy: liquid fuel, gas, electricity. Figure out your average monthly cost. How much of what you're spending is really useful, and how much is waste? Figure out what you want to do differently so you have a better level of sustainability.”

Americans love to consume, and they love to have excess of everything, according to Woodward.
“But in the new frugality we're experiencing right now, people are downsizing,“ he said.
The average size of an American home being built prior to the building bust was 3,500 square feet, said Woodward. Last year, it was 1,500 square feet.
Beyond sustainability, in some situations, homes can be designed or retrofitted to produce enough energy to not only be off the grid, but also to sell back to the grid.
Technologies such as solar and wind energy and heat pumps can either produce energy or use energy much more effectively.
"A heat pump gives you three times as much heat for your kilowatt hours as an electric baseboard heater. It increases your heating efficiency tremendously," Woodward said.
Since 2000, solar electric modules have gone mainstream and have come down in price fairly significantly.
“Now one can have their own power-producing equipment, wind or solar, and sell back to the grid,” he said.  “Most people aren't net producers, they're net consumers, but they can pay down their bill by producing some of their own power.”
Regarding statewide energy policy, Woodruff said, “we are looking to promote policies that would enable financing for renewable energy and energy-efficiency technology on homes and businesses. This could be done through on-bill financing or some other legislative approach related to city or county government.

“We will continue to work with local governments in the Teton County area to increase interest in finding policy solutions to financing issues.”


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