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These good old days of cheap energy

June 4, 2015

Here’s a video that highlights something I think most people take for granted.

All that work to generate the electricity that costs me about 2/10 of a cent. How many Roberts for a penny’s worth of current? 5.

He’s lucky he only had to power a toaster. One of my grandmothers had no toaster. Instead, she toasted bread using the broiler in her electric oven – one side at a time. (And was that slow.) I’d like to see Robert toast bread that way.

As for granny, it gets worse: on cool mornings in spring or autumn, she’d turn the oven on with its door open to take the chill out of her kitchen.

Looking at the #toasterchallenge hashtag, I imagine that the video makers’ point is that we should all conserve energy as much as possible.

But I don’t regard energy as some finite resource that we’re likely to completely consume in the near future. We hadn’t run out of coal when we switched to oil. We hadn’t run out of trees when we switched to coal. I doubt that we’ll have run out of oil when we switch to… whatever.

As one of Carl Sagan’s sons (I don’t recall which one) said: life is possible because the Earth exists in the sun’s energy gradient. That gradient – that waterfall of energy we live within – is what drives it all. And I think we’ve got a few billion years to go before we’ll need another star.

Assuming that the market’s allowed to work, energy will continue to be available pretty much indefinitely. It may not always be available at today’s bargain prices, which allow us to waste it on things like air travel for pleasure, power sports, global computer networks, vanity satellite launches, quick and easy cooking, well-lit roads and sidewalks, and toasting bread in electric ovens.

But it’ll be available.


Update 6/6/15: Now here’s a way to toast bread that wastes even more energy than granny’s method, I think. I hate to think how many ‘Roberts’ this would take.

Via engadget


Update 6/2/15:

Maybe I was too pessimistic above or too into the current group think about energy. This article appeared recently at Bloomberg Business.

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you: […]

Prices are coming down for rooftop solar and — more importantly — for home energy storage. (See Tesla’s Powerwall.)

Dry battery storage is still a little spendy; the Powerwall unit’s not cheap when you start looking at its lifetime and replacement costs. But when I can store 30-40 kWh in my basement for 10¢/kWh (counting maintenance & replacement), I’ll be all over that.

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