A mate of mine is enthusing about micro generation, installing solar panels and the like to feed his insatiable appetite for electrical energy. Enter his house and you are immediately wrapped in an electrical flux so strong that watches are magnetised and mobile phones explode.
His home office hums with the sound all sorts of electrical gadgets and tools. I have one computer and one computer screen – a pleasant symmetry. He has three which feed off a couple of computers, innumerable input devices and monitoring systems. Along with the doubled up hi fi and speakers, reel to reel tape recorders, an editing suite and not forgetting his weather station which precisely monitors the micro climate in his garden, allowing the micro irrigation system to precisely direct measured droplets of water to each individual plant in his garden.
The four or is it five? TVs, with a combined surface area greater than the pitch at the Emirates stadium, are variously hooked up to Wii’s, iPods, hard drive recorders and cinema sized stereo systems. His kitchen is, by comparison, an idyll. Just the fridge, freezer, electric hob and oven, micro wave, coffee machine, blender, dishwasher, washing machine, answer phone and house alarm control panel.
No wonder he’s thinking of ways to reduce his energy bills. He could simply switch most of the stuff off; but that is not the optimal approach. No, it’s micro-generation.
He’s been into it all; had someone round to survey his property and suggest a product. It can’t be a wind farm, although that is possibly the only way he can satisfy his energy demands. No, solar panels – everywhere; well, at least, everywhere without the neighbours banging on his door complaining about his contribution to loss of utility and environmental degradation.
It’s going to cost an arm and a leg to get this power station up and running, but that's not a problem. It’ll be designed so that most of his electricity consumption in the winter will be met. In the spring, summer and autumn he’ll be able to sell the excess he produces back to the grid. He reckons that on the cost per kilowatt he’ll receive for every excess once of juice he sells, he’ll have paid off the capital costs before he’s eighty and from then on he’ll be in profit!
I see one major flaw in his calculations. There are others: like checking his roofs will not need attention once the superstructure holding the solar panels is installed. Or the impact of a very windy day. They are minor when you know who pays the subsidy to the grid for buying back the excess power he will generate. It’s you and I – we are paying the subsidy through our utility bills.
Put simply it amounts to a transfer of wealth to those who have capital enough to fund the up front costs of these micro generation plants, from those who don’t. How long will such a scheme be tolerated? Especially as our energy costs increase, as do our taxes. Won’t people think the arrangement is a) rather unfair and b) most unlikely to make any real contribution to meeting a future energy short fall? Much better to subsidise schemes that provide insulation; or grants to encourage research into making our energy hungry appliances less so.
In Waltham Forest, micro generation could work. Put all the mice, rats and cockroaches that infest our shoddy, nasty, dirty take – aways in large turbine wheels so that as they scurry around they can power the whole of the borough.