The future of energy?

A leap sideways into a different technology world this week. But it’s a world that affects us all: energy. Where do we get it from and what is the environmental cost?
It …

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18th June 2007 at 10:03 am

A leap sideways into a different technology world this week. But it’s a world that affects us all: energy. Where do we get it from and what is the environmental cost?

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that humans are causing climate change, it just makes sense to minimise the damage to our environment simply because we live in it.

And if you can do this while cutting your fuel bills then you should end up feeling rather pleased with yourself. You can be certain of one thing: the prices we pay for conventional energy supplies (and the associated taxes and carbon penalties) will continue their remorseless rise.

One of the problems of, say, solar power is the cost of installation. Who the heck wants to pay for their store or warehouse to be covered in solar panels when payback takes such a long time? Obviously the combination of mass-production, better technologies and increasing conventional energy prices will shorten the payback period, but there’s still that painful up-front hit.

Realising this, SunEdison in the USA came up with the smart idea of installing the equipment for nothing. No up front fees, just agreed charges for electricity used and agreed credits for electricity fed back into the grid.

A couple of car dealerships in Hawaii had the system installed. They generate between 20 and 30 percent of their electricity needs. Their per-kilowatt electricity costs immediately fell 25 percent and the annual increases are capped at two percent, as opposed to the average five percent increase from their previous supplier.

Maybe mentioning Hawaii sounds like cheating but the company is installing all over North America, not just the bits with a good climate. SunEdison clients currently need a roof space of at least 50,000 square feet or a spare land area of at least five acres.

Such an approach won’t cure all our energy woes, not in the short term anyway, but it seems a risk-free approach to saving money. If we end up moving to low voltage direct current in the home, powering lights, tvs, computers and so on, our consumption levels will drop too. Who knows where we’ll end up? A lot closer to energy nirvana than we are at present. All we need is a supplier with the imagination of SunEdison.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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