If you ever wondered why we talk about the “fossil fuel roller coaster,” just take a gander at the chart to the right. Although energy consumption tends to be relatively stable, prices of oil, gas, and coal are unpredictable and incredibly volatile—which makes it hard for businesses and families to plan their finances. When fuel prices peak, people discover that they’ve under-invested in conservation and efficiency. When prices fall, they worry that the efficiency investments they made when prices were high won’t pay off.
Yep, it’s just like a roller coaster —except without any of the fun.
Last year, the ride continued. Fossil fuel spending in the Northwest states fell sharply in 2009 compared with the lofty peaks of 2008 when the region’s fossil fuel spending topped $28 billion. Nevertheless, coal, oil, and gas created a tremendous financial burden for the region: $18.9 billion in 2009, all told, paid by Northwest businesses and residents. That’s $10.8 billion in Washington, $5.9 billion in Oregon, and $2.1 billion in Idaho.
Measured per capita, it all works out to over $1,500 per person per year. With unemployment as high as it was in 2009, it sure would have been nice if we could have kept some of that money closer to home, circulating among local businesses and residents. But instead of stimulating the local economy, we shipped almost all of that money to the parts of the world that actually produce oil and gas.
Still, I suppose things could have been worse. Indeed, they already are: oil prices for the first half of 2010 are already running well ahead of last year, for the second-highest January-to-June average ever recorded. So based on what we’ve seen so far in 2010, I expect we’ll see that green line spike up again soon. The no-fun roller coaster ride continues. Sigh.
I have invested quite a bit of money into what I thought years ago to be a ‘green’ heating solution – in floor radiant hot water system powered by natural gas. I assume that natural gas is a fossil fuel that you consider problematic. What path forward do we with relatively ‘current’ heating solutions have to help address this fuel problem?
Go with a solar hot water collector. At an average installed cost of perhaps $10,000, depending how hard it is to run some half-inch PEX pipes from your heater to your roof, it is the best money you can spend today, and for your wallet as well as your conscience. I have the same heating system as you, radiant hydronic fed by a gas heater. Mine is 97% efficient and supplies my domestic hot water as well. I still use 60 gigaJoules of gas a year, and this means I add 4 tons of carbon for the joy of my family and I living in my house. That’s not nothing. It certainly is far more than what comes out of my car. Solar hot water collectors mate well with hydronic systems, and will save you and the earth at least 25% of your heating and hot water usage and emissions, and that goes for most anywhere in the western part of Cascadia. It will likely be better east of the mountains, and worse high up in the mountains. I live in Vancouver. Check it out.
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