The Ergosphere
Thursday, December 07, 2006

Open letter to the USA: Be careful what you ask for

Because even if you get it, you may not like paying the bill.

The US energy situation is suffering — actually suffering — not from too little oil, but arguably too much.  The costs of getting what we have are far greater than the pump price, and going upwards.

But that's not the biggest problem.  The main problem the USA has isn't an immediate lack of oil or natural gas.  It's a lack of imagination.

Imagination?  Yes.  What other other name is there for a situation where people refuse to reconsider what they desire in light of what it costs, and what they actually need?  When people head closer to bankruptcy every time they fill the tank on the 3-ton vehicle they bought, and demand cheaper goods from others instead of changing their own habits?

This is not just a psychological problem.  It leads to escalation of failure, which can be disastrous.

All of this could be fixed relatively easily if people would use their imagination to figure out what they really want, and how best to get it.  Consider:

So let's exercise that flabby imagination and consider what we'd ask for to get just what we want, without all those pesky consequences.

When I'm at home, I don't give a rat's ass about electricity per se.  It's a means to an end.  One thing I want is for my house to remain comfortable in the summer.  I can do this with an electric air conditioner, or I could pump cold water out of the ground and use it to cool the air in my house.  I could use solar heat to dry a dessicant and use that to remove the clammy humidity.  My electric needs would decrease to what's needed to run some fans and a water pump.  Good architecture (roof overhangs on sun-facing walls, awnings or other exterior shades, windows which can replace hot stagnant air with cool outside air) can make the house far more comfortable without any energy use at all.  Demanding lots of electricity would cost me a bundle; a little imagination would make me comfortable for a lot less money.

Same thing about natural gas.  If my hot water tank and house stay toasty without burning gas, do I care whether it comes to my house or not?  If I don't need any, why would I care what it costs?  With good insulation and the right architecture, I could be comfy without natural gas and pay a lot less money.  I'm sure spermaceti candles cost a king's ransom these days, but I don't care; I have more and better light without burning a thing in my house.  Neither do I need "rock oil" except perhaps to establish a mood.

Gasoline?  Technically I don't use it any more, but my diesel car still burns petroleum.  I'd have the same utility and a lot less expense and inconvenience if most of my driving was powered by electricity.  Plugging in every night or two would be less hassle than going to a filling station once a month to pump smelly liquid into the car's tank, and it would be quite a bit cheaper.

The pursuit of petroleum and natural gas is costing us a huge amount of money, and building up debts which will be with us for generations.  A little imagination could give us the same or equivalent goods and cost us a lot less (in several different ways).  Isn't it time to get our minds out of their ruts and ask for something a little different?

Again Great work!

"Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius."

Chris ;-)
Yeah, great post. I'm 50/50 in terms of optimism concerning re-working building codes in this country. There is so much that could be done right now, yet new knowledge catches on so slowly in the industry.
Desiccant dehumidification has always been an interest of mine. We installed a pilot unit on a building here about 10 or so years ago. The main issue is the maintenance regarding the wheel.

But I never could figure out how to use one in the home. You still need a cooling source because the dehumdified air is now much hotter (the better the desiccant the drier and hotter the air). An evaporative stage might work. Using solar for the desiccant drying stage is a good idea, puts a solar thermal app to good use.
That's what I figure groundwater can be used for.  Groundwater is generally not cold enough to do a good job of dehumidification, but if it can maintain the interior temperature below 80°F while something else dries the air, it would probably do.

I find I'm quite comfortable with air in the high 80's as long as it's desert-dry.
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