It is an exciting time for consumers right now. For those old enough to remember just think how different your life is today compared to 10 or 15 years ago.
Now, thanks to new technologies and companies like Apple, we have miniature wireless phones (and Siri) in our pockets or on our wrists; thanks to Amazon, we yell questions and place shopping orders with Alexa who’s sitting on our countertops; and thanks to Google, we can program our home thermostat to adjust automatically whether we’re not home.
Computer scientists like Graham Kendall from the University of Nottingham have noted, “the iPhone in your pocket has over 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed a man on the Moon 50 years ago.” If you’ve ever watched the futuristic sitcom-cartoon, The Jetsons, you’ll realize a lot of those far-fetched fantasies are now a reality. But speaking of cartoons, or comics in this case, we would be wise to head the wording of Spider-Man amidst all this excitement, recognizing that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
While it may feel like our energy and technology possibilities are endless, we must recognize and adhere to our limits.
For instance, what could happen if a typical family of four is home, cooking dinner, running multiple devices on Wi-Fi, watching their smart TVs, charging their electric vehicle in the garage, and running their home heater (or air conditioner) to stay comfortable? Would they blow a fuse or circuit breaker?
But multiply that scenario across a neighborhood built just outside an urban center in suburbia, where homes are much more concentrated than they used to be, along with the limits of wind and solar power – which perform best during sunny, windy days. Could the power-loaded neighborhood force a blackout?
Perhaps not. But multiply that power use across a heavily populated county or state and the answer may change.
Anticipating these kinds of limits, states with aggressive renewable energy policies, like California, have relied on rolling blackouts in an effort to manage load and to mitigate seasonal threats like wildfire.
These policies have forced some utilities to implement a tiered price system during peak energy consumption hours in an effort to effectively manage load and decrease blackouts.
Seeing this shift, one businessman in San Diego took matters into his own hands by building his own home battery storage unity system. The concept is simple: the batteries store energy from a homeowners’ existing solar panels and automatically powers the home during blackouts, or during peak energy consumption hours.
But the price tag for his system is $14,000 which could take up to five years to pay for itself. Other companies like Tesla have proposed similar battery walls, which could climb to $25,000 or higher. Sure, in time prices could come down – but when?
On the other side of the country in New Bedford, CT, a fire station faced with a similar decision – power down or pay up – took a drastically different approach. There, the Chief says he was forced to not reduce power use, but instead retire one of the station’s fire trucks. New Bedford Fire Chief Paul Coderre, Jr. recently issued a statement announcing that beginning in March 2020, the New Bedford Fire Department “will end so-called fire company ‘rolling blackouts,’ the practice of taking one of the City’s ten fire companies out of service on a rotating daily basis.” The ending of the controversial blackouts comes after two elderly city residents died in two separate fire incidents in October and December of 2019.
The unfortunate reality in these scenarios is that the energy consumer ends up paying. Either slowly over time with more expensive utility bills, or upfront with an expensive battery system, or in terms of reduced emergency services.
Thankfully, there is a better way.
Reports are starting to come to light that America’s new position as the number one oil and gas producer in the world is producing more benefits than just energy security by producing what we need here at home. In the past, our nation was forced to rely on less-than-friendly nations to provide us with the energy we so desperately rely on.
Over a ten-year period, families in New York – a state known for its expensive reputation – saved close to $15.7 billion, and commercial and industrial users saved nearly $15.2 billion. The analysis, titled “The Big Apple Isn’t the Only Big Thing in New York, the Energy Savings are Too” details how residents are saving through cheaper utility bills thanks to domestically produced natural gas. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and thanks to America’s energy revolution it’s abundant, accessible, and affordable.
But in reality, there really is no such thing as a typical consumer of energy or family. We all peak at different times, so it makes sense to lead with the source that can meet our power needs at the price our families can best afford. Thankfully natural gas is there to help us power through anything life throws at us, now and into the future.