That title is somewhat of a mouthful (surely not the first for me), but please bear with me while I do my best to bring a variety of things together under one topic.
Firstly, my previous post was about ‘Unplugging Day’ which was held over a week ago. It’s an event that spans two days, from one evening to the next, with the idea of ‘unplugging’, mostly, I think, from things like social media and our devices that connect us to those things, but I treat it more involvingly and literally switch everything off, bar the fridge. This makes the event, for me, more like Earth Day (or Earth Hour which takes place in a week’s time).
Since Unplugging Day effectively exists in two parts, a Day 1 and a Day 2, separated by a night’s sleep, I found myself participating well enough on Day 1, but my efforts slipped as immediately as Day 2 began. I spent the evening of Day 1 in my lounge by the warm stove and caught up with some reading. Day 2, being a Saturday, found me almost unconsciously following my usual routines; I think I tried to stay offline, but for one thing, I had my weekly ‘Brian reads…‘ episode to read, edit and upload (I wasn’t prepared to miss this for the sake of the event).
I suppose what I should have done is returned to my plan of ‘unplugging’ immediately after I’d finished my work (or done it all ahead of the event), but instead my Saturday continued like every other Saturday. For this, I was, well, rather than being too upset with myself, I considered some ways forward. More of this later.
The idea of ‘Unplugging’ to at least save electricity (if not to lift the mental burden of being constantly connected to the Net), is one I have pursued for some years. There are of course activities that contradict me here, such as participating in SETI and Einstein@Home, but even here I’ve already shut down most of my computers ahead of schedule; I had planned to chase down “100th place in the UK” up until the end of March, but since the weather turned a little less chilly and I could tolerate living without the little extra heat and warmth my computers provide, I alas sought to save some electricity instead. I’ll fall short of that target I set (I made it up to 106th place), but the importance of that has waned in my mind (I’ll perhaps still get there, just more gradually over the coming months).
A few weeks ago a couple of A4-sized cardboard documents spanning 8 pages a piece, one in English and one in Welsh, came through my letterbox. These are about proposals by ‘lightsource bp’ to construct a “solar farm on land in the North East of the Isle of Anglesey.”
Traditionally I have been in favour of “green” (or greener) sources of energy, but I have become increasingly sceptical of, well, pretty much all things that involve “big businesses” and “big money”.
The brochure includes maps of the areas being considered for this venture and invites the public to attend an online meeting (of which I intend to attend). I know the areas since they are all within 10-20 miles of where I live. This is not so much of an issue for me, however; I’m not of the “not in my back yard” attitude while at the same time blindly using electricity. On the contrary, I recognise that I use electricity and that this has to come from somewhere (indeed, a “claim to fame” is that I once got briefly interviewed for a TV news piece about proposals for a second nuclear power station on the Island and I said pretty much the same thing then: our electricity has to come from somewhere).
I do take issue with the proposal of a solar farm however, and here I rattle off the gist of those issues:
It is stated, “The project will have an output power capacity… to power 133,106 homes…”
So why not facilitate the solar panelling of 133,106 (suitable) homes?
The solar farm will occupy, what appears to be at present, primarily farm land for sheep and cattle. The land available for this will be greatly diminished, even if they do show a picture of a sheep grazing amongst some solar panels and show green grass between the rows of panels. There are gaps between rows of panels because this is where, at certain times of the day/year, the shadows cast by neighbouring panels fall. Grass, surely is not so vibrant (or nutritious) where it struggles in shade, therefore the number of sheep such a field can support (to the same standards as previously) will be reduced.
It seems to me that solar farms, whilst likely cheaper to install than setting up panels on as many individual homes, actually require more materials; one can see from the picture on the document the metal frames used to support the panels at an optimum angle. This extent of metal is not required for a pitched roof array (although, granted, there may be other materials, such as more wiring, used overall).
In addition to the numerous fields proposed for solar panel use is an area (previously used for industry) that, it is proposed, could be used for a “Battery Storage Facility”. This seems like a good choice, making use of otherwise disused land, however my issue here reveals that the project, and indeed solar, is not completely “green”. The brochure refers to solar as “a passive form of technology, generating electricity without creating any waste products of pollutants”. This is simply not true.
That such batteries (just like those manufactured for use in mobile phones, laptops, and electric vehicles) have to be manufactured from materials mined from the earth should be a concern. All materials are finite and it is my understanding that electronic devices and modern batteries use what are considered to be “rare earth materials”. Indeed, even solar panels have to be manufactured and there is a manufacturing and energy cost here to be considered. Beyond the lifespan of the panels and batteries, there will also be the recycling and disposal costs. There will be waste products and pollutants, although perhaps not on the level of, say, a coal-fired power station.
Of course, once a solar farm is created it will then produce “green energy” but just like wind farms, these systems have a finite life-span; parts need maintenance, repairing or replacing, or they become obsolete as “more efficient” technologies are developed (and pushed/promoted).
My final issue is how such a project is of benefit to such a company as lightsource bp. It does little for the individual (although they do mention potential improvements to the biodiversity of local wildlife and footpaths in the area, but these things could be addressed anyway). No, such a scheme puts power (and money) into the pockets of this corporation, whilst the home-owner continues to pay their usual electricity bill. Having one’s home solar panelled, likewise, should lead to cheaper or even free electricity somewhere down the line (once the initial upfront cost for the installation is met).
Sadly, even private ventures into the world of solar generally leave the home-owner tied to the grid. The systems that are rolled out to the masses rarely include a battery system to enable them to be completely self-sufficient and self-reliant. It seems odd to me when I consider this, and I wonder why it is the case. Why isn’t a disconnection from the grid encouraged? There would be reduced challenges for a “struggling power network” in times of heavy demand, for example.
One idea for the future that has us driving electric vehicles is for those vehicle’s batteries to form (part of) the battery storage system for our homes. I quite like this idea. I like the idea of having enough solar panels on my home to power my home, just as I like the idea of collecting enough rain water for my day-to-day needs, but I have at time done the math and, besides the initial outlay, it seems such systems will struggle to “pay for themselves” before they reach their “end of life” or need money spending on them to repair and maintain them.
It’s like we’re kept within this system, no matter what.
Power and Pyramids
So that is the sum of my electrical power predicaments; the way to save electricity (and not burden our farmland and planet with solar arrays and the production of rare-earth-material-depleting batteries) is to use less electricity.
The Pyramid part comes (not from the idea that the Pyramids of Egypt were once power-generating devices, but) from a pyramid I saw illustrated and explained in a Youtube video:
This came to my attention around the time of my Unplugging Day predicament and I began to consider this pyramid as a way forward. I began at the base of the pyramid, with my ‘Environment’ because this leads to our Behaviours, which in turn affect our Capabilities, Beliefs (about ourselves), our personal Identity and how others see us, all the way to the pinnacle of that pyramid which is our Purpose in life (if you believe there is such a thing), which I have blogged about before.
I quickly realised that my immediate environment, my home, is not serving me as well as it could. I began with my bedroom and saw how having things strewn about (or even carefully placed, but were not fit for a place of sleeping) were not in-line with my self-image. I then proceeded, mentally, out to my office area where my computer resides and how this itself formed an Environment, and how the setup here hindered me, leading to my difficulties on Day 2 of Unplugging Day; using the same computer (environment) for all things work, hobbies (blog-writing, vlog editing etc) and entertainment puts me in a daily battle of distractions and power-draining. This is not only power-draining in the form of electricity, but power in the form of our own personal power, or as I Damien Echols explained in a recent video of his I watched, these things are ‘vampires’. Yes folks, vampires exist, but most of us fail to see them, just like I had stopped seeing the various things that had let creep into the world around me.
I’m therefore (certainly not for the first time) trying to build and maintain daily schedules that work for me. Every time I do this I think back to my school days when every student had his/her timetable – life was seemingly easy then in hindsight (at least while I was at school), and much was achieved, but as soon as that packed school timetable was (in my case) replaced with a college or university one that had much “free time” for “private study” (or I was back home and under my own jurisdiction), I became less focussed, putting off studies and homework until I’d had some me-time, or gone outside to build a dens (not that den-building is necessarily a bad thing; every kid should be out building dens!) However, college was also the time I got my first PC and I got myself online; things then immediately became more of a challenge.
Limiting my time online, or in front of a computer, is part of this method of building (back) and maintaining daily schedules, which means some days I don’t get around to blogging (for example), or I have to consciously avoid such things in order to actively pursue others that don’t actually need to involve a computer. Often I want to share these pursuits in the form of a blog, or a vlog, or something creative online, so this is where I have to (I realise) compromise from time-to-time, as I’m sure we all have to, but this is how I’m stepping up to my own challenge.