World Futures: Energy – Part Two

World Futures Institute
In Energy – Part One we looked at the energy consumption of humanity at both the individual and collective levels, noting the change in climate but finishing with a question of affordability. This is a challenging question because it deals with a long time scale while most of us are concerned about buying food or paying the rent or mortgage next week. Yet we, collectively, are considering House Resolution 109, the Green New Deal, and Senate Bill 59 dealing with the Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment. Each of these proposed pieces of legislation, at least in part, deals with energy and its consumption. Ironically, energy itself is never really consumed, merely transferred among things or stored (at least in classical physics). It might be used to change the physical state of something, but it does not disappear from the universe. So what is energy?
The unit of energy agreed to by human beings is the joule, named after James Prescott Joule. It is a derived unit in the International System of Units and equals the force of one Newton applied to an object over a distance of one meter.
Now that that is clarified, it should be easy for legislative bodies to control energy sources and distribution. Or maybe it is not so easy. Looking at the Joule in another way, consider the British Thermal Unit or BTU, a unit of heat. One BTU is about 1055 joules and the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. That really clarifies it for some people, but what about the understanding of society?
A more common representation of energy that most of us understand is really a unit of power – the watt. The watt equals one joule per second. If an object receives one watt of power for one second, one joule of energy has been transferred. Doing the simple math, if 1055 watts of power are applied to one pound of water for one second with 100 percent efficiency, the temperature of the water will go up one degree Fahrenheit. Assume you want to boil one pound of water (about 1.92 U.S. cups) currently at a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a device rated at 1000 watts (one kilowatt), it will take about 150 seconds, or 2.5 minutes, or 0.0417 hours. Multiply watts times hours and you get 47.7 watt-hours.
In Los Alamos, the cost of electricity to the consumer is 11.52 cents per kilowatt-hour, making the cost of boiling a pound of water 0.48 cents. To make a cup of coffee the water temperature only needs to reach 205 degree Fahrenheit and there are 1.92 cups in the pound of water making the final cost, at 100 percent efficiency, a mere 0.25 cents or $0.0025. Who cares when the cost of a cup of coffee is $2.00 at the coffee shop? Is the average person going to calculate lost revenue because a 10 watt LED bulb (60 watt incandescent equivalent) is left on overnight?
Using some data from Google for 2011, the average household electricity consumption in the United Stated is about 908 kWh of electricity for all the things listed in the previous article. Of course this average might include heating, but that is another topic (assume is does not even though La Senda residents might disagree). In Los Alamos the cost of residential electricity is 11.52 cents per kWh, pretty close to the national estimate of 12 cents per kWh. So the average cost on the monthly household electricity bill is about $108.96 in the U.S. and $104.60 in New Mexico. The annual figures are $1,307.52 and $1,255.22 respectively.
Now consider what going completely green will do for the cost to a household in New Mexico just for household energy. There are about 770,000 households in New Mexico and they all use some electricity. Currently, most household electricity is delivered by a power line network and the values I found did not include converting each residence to solar. It is personally seeing no change and relying on the electricity companies to make the changes. Keep in mind, however, that the electricity companies must pass their costs to consumers unless they want to go broke.
According to a paper called “What the Green New Deal Could Cost a Typical Household (, the average New Mexico household electricity bill will rise to $4,508.00 per year or $375.67 per month in current year dollars. That is an increase of $217.07 per month or 259 percent.
To put a different perspective on the numbers, the current poverty level for a family of four in the United States is $25,750 per year. Double this to $51,500 and look at the impact of household energy costs in New Mexico. Currently, household energy requires about 2.4373 percent of gross income. Under a total solar/wind system, household energy would require 8.7534 percent of gross income. How many households can afford it? How many lifestyles must change? And do we need to reduce consumption.
The numbers presented here merely guess at the cost impact on households themselves. Not included is the cost, for example, of converting from gas heat to electrical heat, fossil fuel powered automobiles to all electric, and on and on. If two day delivery of web purchases goes away, how will it affect lives? If fresh produce availability fades, will you gracefully adapt? Is it all about planes, trains, trucks and automobiles or is it about the energy infrastructure?
Til next time….
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