Home/office renewable energy

A case study

Why are we doing this?


In rational, objective terms this project makes no sense.  We pay only 6 cents per kilowatt/hour to the electrical utility, which is among the lowest rates anywhere.  The service is reasonably reliable, although there are more frequent outages than in cities, and we did loose power for several days during the infamous ice storm in January 1998.

 By the time we're done, this project will end up costing a bundle, about the same as a luxury sport utility vehicle.  So, why are we doing this? One succinct appraisal was offered by my older brother, who has worked on large-scale electrical construction for the past 40 years: "Yer nuts", he said.  On the face of it, he makes a pretty good point.

Why are we investing in renewables?
The solar and electrical installation.
The wind turbine installation.
Solar domestic hot water.
A breakdown of the system cost.
System performance.
Heating the shop and battery enclosure.
The wood stove used for space and water heating and cooking.
The outdoor brickoven.
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I'll offer just three reasons, which are admittedly personal.

  1. I've been using renewable energy in the form of wood heating for over 40 years and the subject has been a passion and a career for almost as long.  Every aspect of the technology, as well as its social and political implications, have fascinated me and kept me engaged from the beginning.  Once deeply engaged in one renewable energy, all renewable energy sources became collateral interests, so I have thought about and casually researched solar and wind power all along.  Then a few years ago Wendy's career took a slow turn from social work to energy through a rather circuitous route.  In 2003 she earned a doctorate at the University of Guelph, in the rural studies program looking at sustainable rural community.  While her academic work was far too complicated to describe properly here, it dealt generally with issues of energy literacy, the extent to which citizens are able to make informed decisions regarding energy, decisions that serve their household, community, security and environmental objectives.  So the first reason is that Wendy and I are interested in and reasonably well informed about energy issues and renewable energy in particular.  In full academic flight, she would describe this as a participatory energy research project.
  2.  Secondly, as one who is steeped in the small scale, through my interests in household wood energy, I have a general antipathy towards large scale systems of all kinds, and electrical utilities, Ontario's in particular, are conspicuous examples of what I consider devious, exploitive, and, at their root, anti-democratic institutions.  My payment each month to what used to be called Ontario Hydro, but has now been privatized into something that will probably be worse, especially for rural people, seems to me a perverse kind of endorsement of their corporate and industrial shenanigans.  I want take a stand, to put my money where my mouth is, to vote with my wallet, as they say.

  3. And finally, based on my reading over the past several years, I have concluded that we are on the brink of a worldwide transformation in the meaning of energy.  Since the beginning of the modern age, industrially developed nations have experienced rapid economic growth and have accumulated spectacular wealth.  The beneficiaries of this phenomenon, supported by the voodoo of classical economic theory, believe their good fortune was the result of rigorously applied capitalism and the cleverness of its practitioners.  I now think this growth was fueled and lubricated by cheap energy, oil specifically.  And now that the cheap oil is almost gone, its price, and that of all other energy "commodities" will rise to dizzying heights, never to fall again.  Growth will stop and economies will begin a long term contraction, which is rather like death in classical economic terms. Sound alarmist?  Maybe, but I'm in good company. So, our household and office renewable energy system is part of our investments for future security, much like other people buy mutual funds.

Those are three reasons for our efforts to move towards energy independence: interest and curiosity, political and moral grounds, and finally, concern about the future.