The Cells of Smart Power

When I last wrote about “smart power”, I was taking US business and especially political leaders to task for failing to craft comprehensive, forward-looking energy policy.  They seem to be more concerned with drilling for today’s dwindling oil than planning for tomorrow’s growing needs.  Meanwhile, citizens feel powerless to do much about it.

Part of the problem is one of scale.  Our energy dilemma is big and not easily solved.  There’s a great deal of economic inertia keeping us stuck in hydrocarbons.  As I said before, I believe it’s largely the role of government to help “unstick” us– to provide incentives, tax or whatever, in facilitating a transition from a polluting power paradigm to one more responsible and sustainable.

But that doesn’t mean the citizenry should sit back and wait for their tax dollars to be put to proper use.  There are moves we can make at local levels to get change underway… and set the stage for more expansive solutions. 

In a little German village, some proactive townspeople have been doing just that for several years nowand are producing three times the power they actually require.

As the article states:

The village’s green initiative first started in 1997 when the village council decided that it should build new industries, keep initiatives local, bring in new revenue, and create no debt. Over the past 14 years, the community has equipped nine new community buildings with solar panels, built four biogas digesters (with a fifth in construction now) and installed seven windmills with two more on the way. In the village itself, 190 private households have solar panels while the district also benefits from three small hydro power plants, ecological flood control, and a natural waste water system.

All of these green systems means that despite only having a population of 2,600, Wildpoldsried produces 321 percent more energy than it needs – and it’s generating 4.0 million Euro (US $5.7 million) in annual revenue by selling it back to the national grid. It is no surprise to learn that small businesses have developed in the village specifically to provide services to the renewable energy installations.

If a town of less than 3,000 inhabitants can pull this off, what’s stopping the rest of us?

It’s time to stop looking helplessly at the massive, cancerous organism and start attacking the problem on a cellular level.  Think global, act local.

In Texas we tend to think of the Summer sun as an enemy, especially during times like we’re enduring now where 100° F plus is the norm.  And while it’s not possible to mitigate all of the harsh effects of this excess heat, it’s ridiculous in my opinion that we complain about them while generally failing to take advantage of the solar windfall.

Maybe we just need more citizens like thirteen-year-old Aidan Dwyer, whose curiosity about tree branches led him to discover a way to significantly increase solar cell array efficiency.  He should just be awarded the national science fair grand prize out of hand, no judging, no voting.  Just cut through the red tape and give this kid a trophy… and a lucrative patent while we’re at it.

These are just two examples.  I could overwhelm WordPress with the sum total of possibilities.

I’m constantly frustrated by people who look at the scope of our looming energy crisis and just throw up their hands– or worse, bury their heads.  Industrious individuals are out there making contributions, often small at the outset, to add a little sanity to our crazy consumption patterns.  I’m recommitting myself to following the examples of those highlighted in this article.  Maybe a twelve step program would help?

Hi, I’m Randall Arnold and I use too much electricity.

Time to work on that.

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