Welcome Aboard the ‘Arc’himedes
[Reprinted with permission of author, Carter Quillen P.E. Source: www.shipofimagination.com]
As a mechanical engineer in the 21st century I've come to believe that almost anything we can imagine, (restrained only by the laws of nature), we can make happen. We are only limited by the resources and determination we have to reach our goals. But looking around at the state of the world today, I've also come to the conclusion that we need to imagine better.
The Arc is a ship that I built for two reasons, to be a low cost vehicle to explore the eastern seaboard and beyond in, and as a demonstration platform for the potential of renewable and sustainable technology. My hope is that the Arc can serve as an inspiration for people to imagine a world where we can live abundant lives in harmony with our environment without poisoning our air and water or leaving a legacy of toxic waste for future generations to deal with.
Currently, a debate is raging in Florida and across the nation about just how we are going to power our future. The electric utility industry would have you believe that nuclear energy is the answer. That we need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars of ratepayer's money building dangerous, large scale power production facilities, running massive transmission and distribution lines, and continuing to expand our existing centralized energy infrastructures. This is the same top down approach that we have been following forever and if you are buying electricity in Florida, there's a good chance you are helping finance it right now through a scheme called early cost recovery.
But I'm here to tell you, and show you for that matter, that there is a better way. A bottom up approach to the problem that is lower in cost, provides more energy security, is cleaner for the environment, and stimulates the economy far more than the business as usual, we'll take care of it for you, methodology that the utility industry wants to sell you.
Solar energy is an abundant but diffuse natural resource that unfortunately does not lend itself well to large scale, centralized energy production and redistribution. For this reason, it is currently a poor choice when you're trying to apply it in a top down energy solution. This is a fact that conventional energy suppliers are constantly trumpeting. But what they’re not saying is, on a small scale, at the point source of use, solar is extremely efficient and cost effective in providing the low grade thermal and high grade electric energy that we consume in our daily lives.
Unfortunately, the playing field is not level for decentralized renewable energy development. For example, why is it that if you want to put a solar water heater on your home in Florida your finance options are typically in the 18% range with a 5 year term? But if you want to build a nuclear power plant, you can use the collective buying power of 5 million ratepayers and get a 2% federally guaranteed loan for 30 years? This is the sort of thing that needs to change!
The cost of renewable technology has recently plummeted to an all time low. I don't think the average consumer realizes just what a good deal some of this technology is. Did you know you can build your own personal power plant, capable of delivering almost all the energy you'll need for the next 20 years for about the cost of a mid-sized car? You'll be paying a lot more than that to your electric company in coming years if they keep having their way!
It’s time to change how we produce and use energy, begin a Micro Grid Revolution, and shift the Power to the People!
Consider that the entire 5 kWatt energy system on the Arc, which supplies not only our propulsion power, but also all the electricity and thermal energy we need for refrigeration, air conditioning, water heating, lighting, and consumer electronics, cost less than $10,000 in materials to build. The Arc, constructed of steel reinforced concrete, with all the comforts of home, is the equivalent of a small waterfront condo propelled by solar energy. This living arrangement is certainly not for everyone, living off the grid takes a little extra effort, and not everyone would be content with 450 square feet of living area, even with the awesome back porch. But the exact same technology can definitely be applied to any one's home or business with the same results, energy independence. Because once you've capitalize the hardware, there are no fuel costs. The energy rains down on your house from above, you collect it, you store some of it for later, and you use it when you need it.
Florida does not "NEED" nuclear power but the utility industry wants it and they want it bad because it is the easiest, most profitable way for them to meet the energy requirements of consumers. Aggressively increasing our energy efficiency and applying point source energy production technology such as solar heating and rooftop photovoltaics universally across the grid may be better for the economy, cleaner for the environment, and cheaper for consumers in the long run, but it is in direct contradiction to the business model of the electric utility industry. Too bad, we didn't forgo the development of the automobile because of its effect on the profits of the tack industry. This detrimental effect on the corporate profits of the electric utility industry is no reason not to develop a decentralized, renewable energy infrastructure that is clearly in the best interest of consumers and the environment. It may make alternative energy much more socio-economically complicated and difficult to apply but it does not make it unfeasible. We have the technology available right now to begin cost effectively providing almost all the energy we need with renewable resources, we just lack the will and leadership to do it.
NegaWatts are cheaper than MegaWatts
It's really quite simple if you think about it for a moment. Every Watt you displace with conservation, enhanced efficiency measures, and renewable energy applications, is one less Watt, (NegaWatt) that has to be generated by a utility company and transmitted to your home or business. While it is true that we can't simply conserve our way to energy independence, aggressive conservation and increasing our efficiency are the first steps in getting our house in order. And there's a lot more to be done than just turning off the lights.
Unfortunately, when it comes to energy conservation and efficiency improvements, we have put the fox in charge of the hen house. The conservation efforts of the typical Investor Owned Utility, (IOU) are often little more than a self serving, ratepayer financed public relations campaigns to make it look like they're doing something meaningful. It's past time for us to get serious about really becoming more efficient and doing this will create thousands of new jobs.
Study after study after study keeps telling us the same thing, increasing our efficiency and applying alternative energy is a cheaper and better solution, (see http://www.nirs.org/alternatives/alternativeshome.htm), yet our leadership in Florida, (the Sunshine State), keeps ignoring the facts in favor of sweetheart deals for the existing IOU's and continued business as usual. There is so much that could be done, but to start with, why don't we consider using early cost recovery to create low interest loan banks that provide large scale funding of small scale efficiency upgrades and alternative energy projects for individual homeowners and businesses in Florida? This is actually being done in other states. It would literally put thousands of people to work and be a good first step toward building a clean, safe, low cost, and decentralized energy infrastructure built on renewable resources instead of continued expansion of our existing dirty, expensive, vulnerable, and dangerous centralized energy infrastructure built around nuclear and fossil fuels. As a ratepayer, it's your money, you need to stand up and have a say in how it is spent.
Please don’t dismiss these ideas as some unattainable Solartopian pipe dream of a guy passing by on a sunny day in a solar powered concrete boat until you consider all the facts. Look at what countries like Germany are doing,http://www.boell.org/web/index-The-German-Energy-Transition.html This is a place with lower solar resources than Alaska, yet they are leading the world in alternative energy development. They are doing it by creating a world class, decentralized energy infrastructure from the bottom up, not the top down, with the enthusiastic participation of their citizens. It's not just Germany, many other industrialized nations are taking this path to energy independence. And it's not a socialist plot to take away your rights to be a polluter, it's a grassroots movement by informed, concerned citizens who want to live a better life and leave a better world for their children.
You don't have to take my word for it either. Visit sites like www.cleanenergy.org , www.rmi.org, or www.oeic.us and learn about the details of how this can actually be done. Then get excited about the possibilities that sustainable technology holds for your future. Lower energy costs, more jobs, and a cleaner environment are the bounties that renewable energy offers Florida for the taking.
Get informed and get involved. Go to www.myfloridahouse.gov and www.flsenate.gov and contact your state legislators and tell them to stop giving away our future prosperity to the electric utility industry. Learn more and seriously consider investing in energy efficiency upgrades and alternative energy technology for your own home or business. Becoming energy independent has never been more affordable and attainable to the masses than it is right now.
The time is here! Join the Micro Grid Revolution today and transform your home into your own “Castle of Imagination”. Then live the dream of a sustainable future for yourself and your children.
[For more information about the ‘Arc’himedes: www.archemedesproject.blogspot.com/]
Carter Quillen is a native Floridian and a 4 year veteran of the United States Coast Guard. He is a BSME graduate engineer from the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida and has been a registered Professional Engineer since 2002. He is a past president of the Space Coast ASHRAE chapter as well as an award winning conservation contractor.
Mr. Quillen was a certified mechanical contractor, solar contractor, and energy auditor in Florida for over 15 years where he performed thousands of residential and commercial HVAC&R system performance analyses, building envelope evaluations, and completed hundreds of energy efficiency upgrades. He is an expert in Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning efficiency as well as solar thermal and photovoltaic applications. He was also the testing engineer for the Florida Solar Energy Center’s certification program for two years.
His industrial experience includes 5 years as a mechanical systems engineer for ground support facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, (CCAFS) and the Kennedy Space Center, (KSC) where he was involved in optimizing the energy efficiency of numerous industrial/commercial systems. Carter was also the Facilities Engineer at a large manufacturing plant in Johnson City, Tennessee where he designed and project managed capital improvements to increase the efficiency of numerous systems within the facility.
Carter has provided mechanical consulting services to a wide variety of industrial and government clients concerning energy efficiency studies and personnel training, including the Florida Solar Energy Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, NASA, the US Air Force, the D.O.E and the US Department of State. He was also the Mechanical-Electrical-Plumbing, (MEP), construction administrator for the construction of Ave Maria University in Naples Florida, which at the time, was the largest construction project in the country. Currently he is working as a professional engineering consultant and independent clean energy advocate.