by: Chris Warren
A longstanding tactic used to sell the public on renewable energy has been to portray it in positive, almost loving, terms that no one would disagree with. All of the glowing claims are true to a degree, but universally ignore the reality that everything has a down side and no energy is truly free or clean. The political left wants everyone to believe that renewable energy is a magic pill with no side effects, and the political right dismisses it out of hand as some feel good hippy trip with no practical application. They are both wrong. And it bothers me a lot.
My solar power enlightenment began when I looked into the feasibility of installing solar panels on my house. While I do appreciate the ecological aspect of solar and it did factor into my goals, my main intention was to achieve some level of independence from the commercial power grid. We live in a savage world held back by a thin, fragile veneer of civilization which I believe is going to crack very soon. With it will go the public utilities that “always” work without anyone really noticing until they are gone. Violent societal chaos will escalate from there. I don’t plan on being the first man down.
As I researched further the allure of electricity made from sunlight started to pull me in, which is a very unusual trajectory of thought for my normally practical manner. It is a good thing, isn’t it, that we can power our homes with pollution free renewable energy? Of course it is. But here’s the but: While sunlight may be free, all the hardware and support equipment needed to turn it into useful electrons is very expensive and complex, and the production of the equipment can be environmentally messy. From a purely financial basis, there is no possible talking point around solar power’s very low “bang for the buck.”
Green energy supporters/the political left are famous for defaulting to the emotional: “We will stop pollution.” “We will create jobs.” And of course the famous catch-all excuse, “It’s for the children.” Yadda yadda. The emotional default is not totally without merit. My dire predictions of civil disorder notwithstanding, solar panels are in part a personal statement. I have a sense I’m doing something that matters, even if it’s a small thing. I can have it both ways: Agree with tree-huggers up to a point while keeping myself grounded in the reality that solar energy has a lot of drawbacks and, for the foreseeable future, will not be a major player in keeping the world’s lights on and factories humming.
I will confess to being something of an oddball in the solar power realm. It’s not very often you come across a conservative guy who thinks renewable energy is not only worth doing, he walks the talk and actually does it himself. Yet here I am, living a lifestyle powered in large part by the sun. To be clear, I absolutely do not endorse taxpayer handouts, subsidies, or special favors for implementing green technology. If solar power is truly worth it, then it should be pursued for its own virtue and not in response to a government body’s bribes or threats. Conservatives are not against the concept of green energy; they are against policy where the government pays for or mandates its use.
The power plant that I designed and built all by myself gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment and I do not apologize for my emotional default in regards to it. I have often derided people who seem to look at everything in sappy and emotional terms and think that’s a good enough reason to do something that on any other level makes no sense at all. This time I will hold my fire. Is it really so bad to feel good about renewable energy, provided one is actually using it themselves, and does not smugly expect (or force) everyone else to do the same? Is that enough to make it a conservative-approved “live and let live” arrangement?
One morning last summer I was up on my roof performing some basic maintenance. I noticed the sun was full across my panels and it was at that instant I felt like I was truly making a difference. I paused my work for a moment and just sat there and took it all in. From the roof I admired the trees and the birds and the huge cloudless blue sky. There was a conspicuous absence of man made noises. The message was clear: Yes, what I am doing matters. Mankind has been given clean sources of energy that do not harm the environment and will never run out; we owe it to ourselves and our Creator to make the best of it. I marvel at how from over ninety million miles away, God’s bountiful light of life showers down on my teeny little roof, pushing subatomic electrons through a wire to be turned into real energy that I can use everyday.