Hope Flickers

It’s the kind of national inititative, the kind of muscular, frontal assault on one of the most dangerous problems of our time, that could actually give reason for hope.

It’s a massive program announced this week to install in the coming year 100,000 gas-fired household electric power plants in homes (where they will also heat the water) across the country. They will produce 200 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of at least two new nuclear or coal-fired plants. Moreover, the energy they produce will almost all be used for the intended purposes, in contrast to the 60 per cent wasted as heat by typical power plants. Even more over, the home plants will neither use, nor require the construction of, transmission lines. As my book Brace for Impact argues, the only way out of the electricity trap we are in is to produce our electricity where it is used.

Yes, we have the technology to do it, even in the city, even in a high-rise building. I reported here about the conversion of the building formerly known as the Sears Tower, one of the world’s largest, to one that will provide 80 % of its own power. Eighty per cent!

The home power plant program could use some revisions. Some battery storage should and probably will be included in the package. The project designers envision future possibilites such as using biofuel, locally generated methane gas from animal manure for example, instead of natural gas, or using a cleaner and more efficient fuel cell instead of a furnace.

Still, it is the first sensible large-scale program that I know of that goes to the heart of the need for renewable energy (even though this intermediate step still relies on burning a fuel that is in finite supply and yields some pollution).

Unfortunately for us, this program was announced in and for Germany. It did not make our mainstream media, the only way I know about it is from the environmental magazine Grist (Home power plants project unveiled in Germany).

No doubt some smart and dedicated political or industrial leader in the United States will adopt this as a cause. Can you imagine the town hall meetings, with cries of “socialist” electricity and “keep the government out of your basement!”?

Sigh. Hope flickers.

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