Monday, September 8, 2008

What it's all about.

This will be an ongoing dialogue about place, ethics, and culture. Matters arising will include energy, witness, clarity of sight, profit, value, economy, justice, boats, trout, cranberries, granite, glacial till, navigation, story, character, bronze fastenings, and heart. Among other things.

What does this all mean? Well, today I am reflecting on the fact that the bilge pump in my fifteen foot-long, seventy year-old, wooden sailboat can be easily and entirely powered by a five-watt solar cell, charging a 75 amp-hour deep cell marine battery. The solar cell I speak of is about 18 inches by 18 inches square. About the size of a small pizza. In reality, it could, by trickling energy steadily into such a battery 15 hours a day, power 5 or 10 such pumps (which run only occasionally).

By extension, this means that other, much larger appliances (like refrigerators) can be powered by more solar cells, charging one or several deep-cycle batteries (with an inverter on the back end to change the current from direct to alternating).

With a few twenty-year-old solar cells totalling in area about the size of a sheet of plywood (4 feet by 8 feet), one can power a refrigerator and deep freezer, all winter long, in New England, with the solar cells merely slanted toward the south at 45 degrees from vertical and fixed in that position. I know this from experience, as we did this on Penikese Island. Multiply this array by 2, and the appliances one can run become legion. Divide this array in half, and one can still easily operate laptops, radios, small appliances and occasional power tools. Increase such an array by four or six, and the need for an external supply of electricity becomes doubtful.

But, for some reason, there is still a feeling among many that to burn fossil fuel to power our appliances or cars is still preferable, or is somehow better, or is the only option.

What we've got to do is make solar energy as cool as baseball, as cool as driving a Corvette. Right now it's still not seen as cool, as hip, as true blue, as what real kick-ass Americans do. And that's bunk. Because I do it. I do solar.

Powering up a car with solar is cooler than driving a Corvette, every day of the week. And just think - with a decent array of solar cells, some extra batteries in the trunk of your hybrid bomber, and a few more big extra batteries in the shed, you could just pull your car up to the plug at the end of your own private bank of batteries, plug that baby in, and be good to go, with a full tank of stored sun every morning, with no need to visit the filling station again. Ever.

Yes, you'll need to spend a couple grand on batteries. And maybe several grand on solar cells. But in a time when I am spending seventy-five dollars a week on gas, so, close to four grand a year on gas, there's no question that such a deal could pay for itself fast.

In addition, with an economy as large as ours in the USA, we can produce and consume enough solar cells and batteries and inverters domestically to make everyone a buck - it'll create jobs, cut costs, and make us feel as cool as driving a Corvette does. Cooler, even, when we come up with a bad-ass, rubber-burning, sun-powered son-of-a-bitchin' new American sportscar that will outrun anything on the road now.

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