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Farm – Blog Carnival

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I didn’t grow up on a farm, though I have lived in at least one farm house while I was a kid. It was when my family first moved to Tennessee in 1989 (wow, it’s been 22 years!) and we moved into a house in Morrison that was owned by a certain Tennessee senator. It was such a culture shock moving from the mean streets of Paterson, NJ (Lafayette Street for those familiar with the area) to the quiet reality that was my existence for a full year. New school, new kids (same old meanness, though, for those who were different), new pace of life. I wasn’t a Christian at a time. I believed that just because I was born and baptized as an infant I had a straight ticket to heaven. The Lord has since corrected me on that view-point in the intervening years. I still look back at my time in Morrison with some fondness, though. Our nearest neighbor was 3/4 of a mile away with a nice stand of trees in between our homes. It was quiet aside from the insects and it had a certain peaceful quality to it. I still remember laying in the grass and staring up at the stars one night, watching the sky as it seemed to pivot around. That’s not a view I’ve been able to get even where my parents live now. Too much light pollution, too much air pollution, too many people living too close together.

Part of me wouldn’t mind going back to that farm and putting a nice house on it and living there with my lovely wife. Let the field grow up with weeds and trees affording us even more privacy while the lawn around the house was nicely manicured with a smallish veggie garden and some nice flowers planted willy-nilly. The other part of me, though, doesn’t really miss it that much and finds urban life just fine in Smithville. Who knows, perhaps there is a happy medium that God will provide for us. Until then, I will just have to rely on my memories of that time on the farm.

Full Independence from Fossil Fuels: Is it possible?

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I would have to say with some certainty that the answer is no and here is why.

Electricity isn’t easy to generate.Wind power doesn’t quite cut it yet. Even in areas where wind is near constant, you must have unseemly windmills and – apparently – planting more trees in the world actually slows down the wind overall making it even less practical in more areas. Hydro-power is limited to where one has enough water to turn the turbines at a reasonable rate (waterfalls and dams come to mind). Nuclear is getting yet another black eye (thank you Japan) and while I have nothing against it, many others do. Solar is still too inefficient (even with more efficient panels) and dependent on the sun being out, and the issue of storage (batteries, which need to be replaced every so often as they do not last forever). On top of all that, though, is the fact that most electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, etc.). That means your brand new all-electric vehicle (the one made with plastics, fiberglass, and other fossil-fuel derived products) is still dependent on fossil fuels.

Some people believe that alternate fuels in this country (USA) are being hindered by the government and others who profit by fossil fuels. I have no doubt about that, but it’s not to the degree that some would have us believe. Solar energy is relatively new to the energy game (windmills and batteries having ancient origins). No one in Tesla’s day could have imagined you could harness the light energy of the sun by having it strike a material that would generate an electrical charge when hit by photons and develop a system of electricity. Trust me, if Tesla knew about it (doubly so Edison whose baby was direct current) he probably would have been all over it like white on rice.

If anyone has studied the history of electrical power in this country, one of the biggest issues has not only been generation but it has been distribution. In the end Tesla won out because it’s easier and cheaper and more efficient to transmit AC power over long distances. For those not well versed, without an inverter all you get out of solar cells is DC. Not really useful in the home or over long distances without using an inverter to convert from DC to AC.

Therein lies another problem. Anytime you’re inverting (DC to AC) or rectifying (AC to DC) you lose something in the process. There is no avoiding it. Even when using AC you are only using 70.7% of the peak (single-phase, which is typically run to residential customers). Sure you could convert to DC and get more bang for your buck, but your still having to rectify the AC coming in off the power lines (most all of your electronic devices already do that, for what it’s worth). Rectification, filtration, and regulation of AC to DC is full of losses because of resistance. Everything has resistance. When electricity encounters resistance you just aren’t limiting the current, you are actually dissipating it as heat. No electrical circuit is 100% efficient (and anyone who tells you otherwise is flat-out lying). Even straight copper wire has resistance (something like 12 ohms per thousand feet, it adds up real quick when you start talking in miles).

Do we need to be concerned about fossil fuels? I think we need to be very concerned, but calling electric power the cure-all for our fossil fuel woes is not only short-sighted but straight out foolish. I think we need to get into energy conservation. I think we need to force car manufacturers to start bringing their fuel-efficient designs from Europe over here (look over at European cars and pull up their mileage charts (it’ll be in liters per kilometer, but the conversion process isn’t too inaccurate to miles per gallon). The car companies like Ford, GM, and Chrysler have the technology to lessen our dependence on petroleum. Why don’t they? Greed. Each company almost guaranteed has interests in developing new oil rigs (or interests in companies who are interested in drilling for more oil).

Don’t oversell electrical power. It’s good, but it’s far from efficient. It’s far from being the holy grail of our energy problems.

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