Cold Pizza for Breakfast

Richard Heinberg just posed a long essay Our Renewable Future (Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy) which is a worthwhile read and something to return to later.

Near the end of section 7 he writes:

[there is only] one meaningful indication of success in all these [renewable energy] efforts, and that would be a decline in society’s overall energy use… What we need is not just to trim energy use here and there so as to save money, but to reconfigure entire systems to dramatically slash consumption while making much of the remaining energy consumption amenable to intermittent inputs. (emphasis mine)

‘Intermittent inputs’ is a reference to the idea that the wind does not always blow nor the sun always shine. He’s suggesting we need to organize ourselves to both make hay when the sun shines and be prepared to do something else when it doesn’t.

I already live with some intermittent energy supply. We heat the house with a woodstove. My evening ritual involves making sure there is enough fuel and kindling on the porch that I don’t need to make a morning trip to the wood pile in my bathrobe. The morning starts with lighting a fire. It gets stoked or relit periodically during the day/evening, depending on the day’s needs.

Energy storage is a way around intermittent supply, but it comes at a cost. Today I was thinking about what it would mean to my morning routine if I used only intermittent energy to start my day. After the fire, step two is making coffee. I use an electric kettle to boil the water. Since the winter sun is not up, I’d need a battery to power the kettle, or wait for the stove to heat the water. Step three is often making some toast.

Then comes the shower. My explorations at energy reduction have included making the hot water supply intermittent. Right now that involves putting my conventional hot water tank on a timer, its off when we typically don’t use hot water (eg, while we are sleeping or at work). Heinberg has me thinking about what it would mean to have the hot water heater “on” when the sun is shining.  I’d want to time my hot water use for late afternoon, and with an insulated tank, into the early evening. Morning would be the time of tepid water, and maybe not for wake-up showers.

Summer vs. winter is another way to think about periodic inputs. Perhaps I need to think differently about winter hot water, when I can’t count so much on the sun. Do I need two heating systems, the woodstove and a solar collector? Or do I need much more storage for hot water to “make more hay” when the sun does shine?

Perhaps I should I learn to like cold pizza for breakfast.

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One Response to “Cold Pizza for Breakfast”

  1. Nils Peterson Says:

    I realized that the timer on the water heater didn’t “spring forward” when the rest of the clocks did, so we are showering in water from the night before. So far it hasn’t been noticed.

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