Apr 26, 2005, 7:32 AM
Post #3 of 9
There is at least one housing project going on outside SMA which is as ecologically sensitive as you can get, with no electricity other than from solar panels, or so I heard. The very cheap houses ($1100 each) being put up for the poorest of Mexicans now living in shacks or ruins in rural areas just outside SMA by another organization (the Maria Muldaur concert here a few months ago raised enough money for nine more such houses) incorporate water collection systems into the roofs.
So people are doing a lot, but of course much more needs to be done, and meanwhile the world population keeps doubling while the water supply worldwide is finite. Probably we should be doing more on water desalinization of the oceans, but as far as I know only Israel addresses the problem in this way on a major scale.
Hah. This is something that I have wondered about -- rain water catchment. Even in the drier areas like SMA, during the rainy season, there is a lot of water that falls from the sky. Given the endemic water problems in much of Mexico, I have wondered why there is not more use of rain water catchment to supplement the availability of domestic water. I do wonder about roofing techniques, though. Rain water catchment typically requires some special roofing considerations. I have also wondered about the stability of the power infrastructure.
I was thinking about this yesterday, that if every edifice in the US even party provided for it's own power usage through even a modest solar array or even a small wind turbine (in areas where wind is plentiful, as it is in southeastern Wyoming), intertied into the power grid, the overall grid would be a lot more resistant to failures. The problem with this, though is economics. PV panels are still too expensive for this to be economically practical.
My mind wandered to Mexico, then, wondering about the same thing in Mexico. Overall, electricity is more expensive in Mexico than the US, which mitigates the economic cost of PV panels to some extent, but in absolute cost, PV panels are even more expensive in Mexico, especially when one looks at per capita earnings. An $1100 house with PV power _can not_ include the cost of the PV system in that $1100. If they are off-grid, then in addition to the PV panel, batteries and a charge regulator, at a minimum are needed, and none of that is cheap. Furthermore, if they are off-grid, batteries have to be maintained and they periodically have to be replaced. It's not a set it up and forget it scenario, which brings up questions of long term viability. One also has to question whether spending $1000 in renewable energy components in a $1000 house is the best use of that $1k? Are the people who are going to live there have their quality of life improved more by the renewable energy than they would by spending allocating that money in some other way? Questions questions questions.
So while I think it'd be theoretically great for all buildings to have some capacity for generating even a small percentage of the power that they use, I think that given current costs for the technology, there is no economic practicality to it, yet, either in the US or in Mexico. In a few years, though, I believe we will cross a pivot point between the cost of energy and the cost of reliable technology for producing energy from renewable resources.
BTW, for areas where there is sufficient wind, I think we are already about there with wind power. A small, relatively non-intrusive wind turbine (about a 1 meter in diameter swept area) generating around 400 watts of energy, can be acquired for about a dollar a watt. Couple that with a grid intertie, and while still not cheap, the expense isn't prohibitive, if the area is reliably windy. The problem with turbines, even small ones, though, is that they are more intrusive than solar panels, which makes it more difficult for people to accept the idea of having one around.
Okay, enough babble. Time to go write some code, earn some money, and get closer to moving to Mexico.