Monday, October 30, 2006
Energy is Cheap - futher reflections on the cost of energy
So what is the difference between me pushing my Honda Civic from Middleton Wisconsin to Mount Horeb Wisconsin and back (abougt 36 miles), and driving it at 65 miles per hour? Less than one gallon of gasoline. How much would I have to pay you to push my car to Mout Horeb and back? Much more than the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Maybe $1500 split among you and two friends.
As a measuring stick lets look at Floyd Landis’ energy output at the Tour de France. On his record breaking day (for which he was charged with doping) he rode 125 miles at 23 miles an hour. His total output during 5.3 hours of riding: about 1.5 kilowatt hours (kWh).
Madison Gas and Electric residential customers pay about 13 cents per kilowatt hour for their electricity during the peak of the summer. So the value of Floyd’s energy output is less than 20 cents. And that is for an amazingly hard day’s work.
The average daily household electricity consumption in Wisconsin is about 25 kilowatt hours. That would be equal to Floyd riding over 2000 miles for us per day.
If Floyd rides at that 125 mile Tour De France race every day of the year his energy output could either meet the electricity needs of the average home for about twenty days (about 500 kWh), or drive my Honda Civic about 2500 miles (about 55 gallons of gasoline). That effort would be worth $65 of electricity or $165 of gasoline. Meanwhile those corporate sponsors were going to pay him millions.
Most of us do not realize what amazing feats our society has managed with our amazingly cheap energy. What will we do once this cheap fossil energy is gone?
One more story. Last week I was driving down the highway at a respectable, and not very energy efficient, 75 miles per hour. Looming behind and gaining on me, was a huge Ford F350 pickup pulling a gigantic fishing boat. (That fishing boat will never go 75 miles an hour on the water, but it can on the highway.) Assuming they are getting ten miles per gallon it would take 270 Floyds to equal that F350’s gasoline use.
In the next generation oil and natural gas will be running out, and they will get more expensive. How much will you be willing to pay for energy?
Consider solar energy. It actually is not expensive when you realize the true value of energy. If my solar electric system lasts 20 years (it should last 40 to 50 years), my solar power costs 33 cents/kWh. That makes Floyd's effort worth about 50 cents of solar electric power. Still really really cheap.
At the Hybrid Car fest, in Madison, I learned that one kWh of power will propel a Prius about five miles. On a sunny day my little 1.25 kilowatt solar electric system makes enough power to drive a Prius (or Tesla) about 30 miles. That is about three times my average daily commute.