Friday, March 23, 2007

All Power Is Geography

All power is geography. Always has been, always will be. Power is a universal need, and like water, which we get by whatever means are present, we've taken energy from camp fires, peat moss, wind and water mills, whale blubber, coal, oil, hydro, nuclear, ethanol, etc. etc. This is all obvious, but yet, people still seem to think of power sources as "competing" in a zero sum game...

I was at a recent cleantech conference looking at corporate adoption for cleantech. The panel of presenters included Applied Materials, Starbucks, and HP. One of the questioners asked the Starbucks rep about finding the "perfect" Starbucks shop configuration for utilizing cleantech so that the company could then "stamp and copy" this {exact} configuration throughout all of their coffee stores.

Wrong, wrong wrong. Starbucks will face the same economics as everybody else and will take the most efficient power where it exists. If it's hot, then geothermal cooling the building may make the most sense, in Iceland I can almost guarantee geothermal heating/power (opposite) may make sense, in New Mexico, light up those panels, in foggy, windy Seattle, spin some turbines on the roof. People, especially in America, have gotten used to a large, central, grid system where their power is delivered remotely, sans-geographia if you will. (if such a word exists...?)

But enough about me saying this, I found this excellent graphic from the American Solar Energy Society's report on Tackling Climate Change in The U.S. It may be a little too hard to read the legend from this pic, but if you click on the picture, it shows the general relative utility of various renewable energy sources for the United States. What's interesting is how prevalent biomass is, wind does about what I'd expect, and solar seems to be less prevalent than I would have guessed. Ironically, even this map is falling somewhat prey to zero sum, as there must be locations with high sun/biomass/wind and only one color is showing up. Nonetheless, I still think this speaks to the notion of geographies and their _relative_ relationship to energy sources just about perfectly.