When the calendar turns to summer, as the masses break out the air conditioners, Con Edison and the City of New York go through the same mantra year in and year out.
Turn off your air conditioners when you’re not home! Set them no cooler than 78! Save energy!
All well and good, but sometimes it’s not enough. Every now and then, ConEd will be forced to reduce voltage in order to protect the power lines. In more extreme cases, brownouts or rolling blackouts may occur.
And then there are the strong, quick thunderstorms Mother Nature decides to throw at us this time of year. I like to call them “fast movers” since they run up on you quickly, cause a lot of damage, and then disappear in the blink of an eye, like a military jet. Thousands at a time may have their power go offline thanks to one of these, and heaven help those who lose their power during consecutive 90+ degree days.
But there is one thing that can partially alleviate, if not completely eliminate, these problems.
With natural gas prices falling rapidly, and shale oil technology just coming into fruition now, it seems that the green movement, and with it all forms of renewable energy, have been thrown under the bus. The American solar industry has been hit especially hard. Solar panels from China have become extremely cheap, with more and more companies outsourcing production there, and the Solyndra scandal certainly has not helped matters.
But with the world’s ever-growing need for electricity, it is clear that nonrenewable resources are going to be used faster and faster. Increased use of natural gas and shale oil may stave off the inevitable, but all that does is increase the amount of pollution in our atmosphere and push the problem onto the next generation.
Solar power can help. My old high school installed solar panels on its roof back in 2007, and since then has generated over 18,000 kwh of electricity and avoided over 31,000 lbs of greenhouse gases, enough to power a small town for a day. Not only have they been protecting the environment, but they’ve saved a pretty penny as well, and figure to save more in the coming years as they have recently installed energy-efficient lighting and appliances. Do note, however, that this is a very small project — most of the space is taken up by a green roof. But the fact that they’ve been able to do this in just five years is simply amazing.
Now, what if every building in the entire city did that? Although it might cost a little in the short term, the payoffs in the long term would be gigantic, especially if energy consumption rises. Electric bills would go down. The stress on the electrical system would be partially relieved, even in times of high usage. People may still have to worry about blackouts, but the solar panels could be connected in such a way that all necessary appliances stay online. Having everyone who does this buy from solar companies who manufacture in America would jump-start a lagging industry whose intentions really look towards our future, and would provide thousands of manufacturing jobs in this country.
Of course, having every building install solar panels on its roof is rather unrealistic. The typical city family probably does not have the money to buy them, and in some cases the space to install them. However, if large office buildings and apartment buildings did this, perhaps we may still see rates for electricity go down. The panels would be out of sight and out of mind, secretly working to raise the quality of life for all.