A Modest Proposal

Executive Summary:

  • The cost to take a suburban house “off the grid” or nearly so, is in the neighborhood of $30,000 to $40,000. While not extravagant, it’s a figure that gives most middle-class households pause when compared with a $100-$200/month electric bill.
  • To offset this cost, Carbon Credits are used to fund alternative energy installations on existing suburban homes.
  • The benefits of taking suburban houses off the grid are numerous – reduces strain on infrastructure, simplifies disaster response, and provides the initial infrastructure for the much touted “Hydrogen Economy”.
  • Unlike most solutions proposed to be funded with Carbon Credits, this one is achievable TODAY with off-the-shelf technology, not vaporware.

More after the break. For more information, or if you’d like to throw a couple million my way to get this started, leave a comment, or my contact information is on the right. A (very) brief resume is at the end of the post.

So, there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of days over a certain politician (turned filmmaker and high-tech board member) and Carbon Credits. I don’t want to dwell on the specifics of it, ’cause

  1. This isn’t a political blog, and
  2. Global warming or no global warming, saving energy is something that I think everyone can agree is a good idea. Waste is bad.

Anyway, the bit that caught my ear while listening to a quick bit on NPR about the kerfuffle was that said Person was buying “Carbon Credits” to offset any extra emissions he personally might generate in an effort to maintain the lifestyle to which he’d become accustomed. The figure was tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Hmm, I said.

For most of my life, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of taking my house off of the grid. The potential is just too good to be true – no more electric bills, no need to feel guilty about burning fossil fuel, generating air pollution, generating nuclear waste, or disrupting salmon spawning patterns. I’ve pictured naps in the shade of a solar installation on a hot summer’s day; or leaning up against my very own windmill, chewing a blade of grass and bouncing my son on my knee.

And, based on trends I’ve been watching, it’s not as much of a pipe dream as it might have been in the past. A low-profile wind turbine is somewhere south of $15K, installed. Solar arrays, about the same. Not a whole lot of scratch, but a significant investment when my wife is living in a 1960’s era New England cape after growing up in 1980’s era Texas ranch homes. She’d rather have a new bathroom if and when we can scrape up the cash, and I can’t say that I disagree with her.

Then, last week, two things struck me:

  • First was the whole idea of carbon credits for folks who used orders of magnitude more energy than our humble family – if the people who can afford them are buying them, how could I make money selling them? My answer was that I’d be happy to take my family completely carbon neutral tomorrow, especially if someone else were willing to pick up the tab for my home improvements.
  • Second, I came across this bit in Wired Magazine about a guy in the Northwest whose vacation house was completely off the grid thanks to his system to store energy in the form of hydrogen.

Hot Dang! I said, there’s the clincher.

By using electrolysis (another off-the-shelf technology) to produce hydrogen, and then using fuel cells (again, OTS) to produce electricity, we’ve got a system by which the house is somewhat immune to power outages.

But, more importantly for my kids, we’ve got the possibility of having a hydrogen fueling station sitting in the backyard for the President’s much touted hydrogen cars. No need to wait for Exxon, Citgo, and all to get on the bus, I can plug in the nozzle and fill up tomorrow! If I’m using it to commute, works like a champ, ’cause I’m home every night.

So, here’s the business model:
1) We sell Carbon Credits to folks who want to buy them. Given the figures being batted around considering the previously mentioned unnamed politician, namely an annual impact of approximately 20X the energy use of an average family, the credit will be the cost of an installed energy system with a 20 year lifespan. So, an annual Carbon Credit, running about $25-50K would provide the money to take one house off the grid.
2) We provide the alternative energy systems (solar or wind, depending on location) to the homeowners FOR FREE, including free electricity, on a few conditions, such as compact florescent bulbs, Energy Star appliances, cars that get over 30 MPG (until hydrogen cars are available), etc.
3) We continue to provide support and service throughout the useful life of the system, paid for by selling excess power back to the grid as available. The installed hydrogen storage system is scaled to provide, for instance, a week’s power and auto fuel.
4) We find some genius accountants that let us take the homeowner tax credits that most states have for alternate energy installs and apply them to our bottom line. The easiest way to implement that might be to charge the homeowners something for the install, but that is in semantics. I think it’s critical to the soul of this idea that we offer it free and clear to the folks whose homes we’re using.

I know, we’re leaving money on the table in not charging the homeowner at least something for the electricity. But, to be frank, I’m also going to be looking to push adoption of the system by upper-middle class types who just want free juice, and who can afford the install cost. Being able to show the systems installed and working in their neighborhoods is a great marketing tool, and being able to offer free support (paid for by Carbon Credits/Excess generation) for system life with the install is a plus.

So, what do y’all think?

BTW, I am posting this under the creative commons license – feel free to rip/mix/burn, as long as you aren’t turning the idea into profit without giving me a call first. To tell the truth, I might be happy to part with the idea on the condition that I’m home #1. A brief resume follows. More information available upon request.

Education: BS Engineering Science; second tier MBA; Navy’s Nuclear Power pipeline through qualification of Chief Engineer for submarine power plants
Employment: Systems Engineer, specializing in bleeding edge R&D. Officer in the US Navy Reserve, one tour of recall to Active Duty in support of OIF

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