* It's important to know where I'm coming from and where I'm going with this page. My views on alternative technologies might help. I advocate for both family/individual and community scale alternatives, for simplicity, for Schumacher's notion of sufficiency/enough --and for living within modest limits. I most definitely share Schumacher's loathing for the menace and scale of nuclear power.
As to matters of size and scale, I favor a (sought for) "standard" of communities, technologies, institutions, infrastructure/power plants and (as possible) government --being commensurate with "human scale" (re: Kirkpatrick Sale) which, of course, is something more felt than actually measurable.
That said, I expect we are doomed (sorry about that) --by our inability (even in the United States, let alone other Abrahamic informed cultures) to even have a civil discussion about growth and "population policy" --which is the euphemistic way we're sometimes able to reference reigning in overpopulation (currently: 1.5x to 3x what's sustainable, depending on living and industrial standards).
Never-the-less: it's important (at least for myself, and for the
purpose of me personally coping) to witness here --so as to at least be
nominally less a "part of the problem".
* Witold Rybczynski's "Paper Heroes" takes
Schumacher and the alternative technology movement to task for being impractical
and inconsistent with some of their own goals. Although WR seems somewhat
oblivious to the social and spiritual aspects of smallness, he's certainly
right about many practical matters: thermal efficiencies and such. (A narrow
concern for efficiency, planning and engineering coherency can easily lead
to a functional --or a dysfunctional, "technocracy".)
* Straight away, and no matter how cost effective solar panels become, I suggest that they do not belong on the roofs of average, single family homes --and for obvious reasons. Nor do noisy wind turbines, nor does any kind of serious power generation. We'll come to realize that (and to the detriment of our AT advocacy) as roofs leak and need replacement, as fire fighters refuse to direct their hoses onto burning solar paneled homes, and as the insurance industry turns a gimlet eye toward such installations.
Exceptions for residential installations would be for isolated rural residences with stand-alone, purpose designed structures for supporting and maintaining power generating and storage hardware. (Again: the simpler, the lower power, and the more user understandable/repairable --the better.)
The "appropriate" place for such AT is as a distribution of well
engineered, zoned, regulated and managed community or municipally owned
power plants --which arrangement needs less copper and less robust transmission
lines --since a multi-source grid is itself inherently robust. Aside from
a better carbon footprint (partly due to more durable panels and supporting
structures), emergency backup power is everywhere closer --than from sparsely
located megawatt power plants.
Some adult concerns about solar panels:
From the Liberty Mutual Insurance web site (and hopefully, they don't have a fossil fuel ax to grind), I've borrowed, paraphased/abbreviated/mutilated and added comments to a few points about business and home owner roof installations. (You want to take the link, since Liberty Mutual may well have updated their statements by now.)
* "--currently, there are no uniform standards to help guide the installation and maintenance of solar panel arrays." No doubt the Uniform Building Code will soon accommodate solar panels, but after UL gets ahold of it, I expect surprises that will be costly to retrofit. It might make a big difference to the safety and resale value of your home, should your panels be able to meet future UBC/UL standards and pass an FHA inspection.
* Ground fault detection and interruption (GFI/GFDI) might not work if isolated conductive roofing elements are not themselves properly grounded.
* Roofs are designed (if compliant with the UBC) to carry the load of (perhaps) a second layer of re-roofing, the force of storm winds and however many inches of snow in temperate climates. Solar panel weight and (depending on the installation) added wind loading might exceed a roof's support strength.
* Should the roof or solar panel anchorage fail in a storm, heavy solar panels lofted into the air are going to do a lot more damage and possible injury than torn off roofing.
* As we've recently seen from the London high-rise fire, paneling that's offset with a gap beneath can present a sheltered "fire flue" effect that's devilishly hard to extinguish. In addition, solar panels can't be "turned off", as long as sunlight or the light of flames is reaching them. Firefighters might be reluctant to hose water onto the panels and would certainly refuse to chop through them in order to access and extinguish a roof fire.
* If you lease your residential or commercial building's roof to a solar panel installation company, and should there be a fire, electrocution or storm related damage to the roof or neighbors, determining liability might prove to be difficult.
* Solar power is a young industry with a lot of turn-over. In
the event of hail or vandalism damaging just one of the panels, will the
manufacturer still be in business? Will you loose any "grandfathering"
and have to replace all the panels --in order to meet future inspections
Surely, I needn't belabor the true costs and environmental hazards of coal, petroleum energy and their extraction methods. But let's take a critical look at our choices for alternatives.
Looming large among them is the electric car, which entails beefed up infrastructure to deliver the needed electric energy and wars to secure scarce lithium for batteries. I'm going to pursue an "is this trip necessary" approach to reigning in both our energy consumption, plus the fecundity and growth which underlies it all.
A minute's reflection tells us that, although individual vehicles take longer to reach a given destination at (say) 30mph instead of 60mph, prudent driving ("one car length between for each 10mph of speed) would allow nearly as many vehicles per hour to be making the trip (about 86%) --so highway capacity would be about the same. Side benefits include far less human and animal road kill (which diminishes by more than the square of velocity, if you figure in reflex time) and: significantly better fuel mileage^.
^ Much better than one might initially expect, since vehicles, tires, engines, crashworthy construction and fuel (or batteries, which weigh a ton in Elon Musk's performance cars) --could all be significantly lighter (and cheaper), thus further reducing the power and energy required for a given journey.
So okay, that cuts the over-all cost and operating expense of a vehicle --perhaps in half, especially considering that, with lower rates of wear, damages and injuries, vehicles would last longer, insurance would cost less and cars would probably be needed for fewer commuting miles (due to the return of the single income family).
But there's more to consider! Since folks are naturally reluctant
to spend twice as long commuting to work, shopping and recreational venues,
"the invisible hand of Adam Smith" :-)) --would create many more/closer
destinations --in the fashion that southwest Wisconsin is strewn with little
towns, spaced out as far as a farmer would care to truck his milk to market
in the dairy industry's early days.
More to come.