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Tag Archives: energy

Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.

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Our Switch to Solar Saves Thousands

Solar Panels

The Finished System – 38 Panels – 9.5 Kilowatts

Just received our latest electricity bill from Southern California Edison. Our total charges for delivery are $1.77, which is applied to a current credit balance of just over $200.00. Now that we’ve returned to bundled service from SCE, which means we are totally on a net energy metering account, we are consistently producing more energy than we’re consuming. I have been keeping close track of our total expenses since we had net metering fully enabled and I’m projecting we will save approximately $2,000 over last year’s bill. Think about that. This includes the amount we pay each month on the lease of the solar panels which, since we use a lot of energy, is a large system and is more than some people we know ever spend on a month’s worth of energy.

Some of our savings can be attributed to our being a bit more proactive in cooling the house in the evening and morning by opening up the windows and doors, and using an inexpensive box fan to pump the cooler outside air into the house before buttoning up as the temperature rises. Also, we’ve set our thermostat a bit higher in the Summer months, and have learned to be comfortable with an occasional high temp of 78 or even 80 degrees in the house.

Our two biggest expenses in terms of energy consumption are the pump for the swimming pool filter and our old, not terribly efficient air conditioner. We can’t do much about the pool, as we kind of would like to keep it and there’s nothing we can do to change the need to filter and circulate the water. So the pump remains a drain. I have tweaked the timing so it turns on after the Sun has reached an elevation that generates enough electricity to nevertheless keep our meter running backward, and turns off when the Sun is too low to be of much effect.

SCE Bill

A Portion of our October Bill, Showing Net Production.

Actually, during the Summer I experimented with different settings on our thermostat, which ran the gamut from cooling the house early in the day to take advantage of the abundance of solar energy our system was generating, and waiting until the inside temperature reached 78 degrees before switching on the A/C. Thanks to SCE’s online tools, I was able to track performance on an hourly basis and, by paying attention to the vagaries of the weather as well, I was able to fairly accurately determine what settings made the most sense in terms of production and conservation.

Another aspect of our particular situation is where our house sits relative to the path of the Sun. I don’t think we could have planned it any better if we could have picked the entire house up and planted it facing the perfect angle. Prior to installation of our panels, I’m pretty sure our house heated up far more quickly because of its placement. Now, not only do we have the maximum amount of energy produced by the two sets of panels, but I’m reasonably convinced we benefit as well from the fact the panels also shade the roof and absorb a fair amount of the heat energy as well, meaning the house heats up far slower than it used to.

I have to give kudos here to the company that designed and installed our system. They took into consideration our historical usage and the location of the house and the angle of the rooftops relative to the path of the Sun, and designed a system to provide the bulk of our energy needs. In fact, the system is efficient enough to offset whatever energy we use when the Sun is down, e.g. lights (most of which are CFLs, LEDs, and other fluorescents), TV, computers, etc. That company is Real Goods Solar, one of the first to enter the business and one that is local here in SoCal.

All things considered, I’ve concluded this was a very wise choice for us. Not only do we get to play a role in conserving energy, but we also save a rather substantial sum over what we had been paying for our overall electricity costs. I recommend you consider whether your overall energy consumption, coupled with the amount your house can produce based on its location and conditions, warrants the installation of a system. Not every home will benefit, but I’ll wager a considerable number will find the savings worthwhile. I seriously urge you to consider the alternatives.


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