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June 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm #36687
Truth in Advertising
As more and more companies decide to jump on the Eco, Green, and alternative power band wagons, I see more and more misleading marketing bumf published.
Some of it is slightly exaggerated truths, but lately it has become so blatently misleading, I wonder if green washing is going to drown out any truth inherent in the off-grid and alternative power technologies. Most of these advertisers are just making a grab for the consumer dollars with little regard for being honest in their advertising claims.
Thanks to news stories about some technical progress in hydrogen fuel cell development and a thirty year long research effort by a few pioneer companies most people have heard about hydrogen fuel cell development. Unfortunately, they have not heard about the technical difficulties these pioneers companies are struggling with. This makes it very easy for unscrupulous companies to mix a few truths and a lot of exaggerations into plausible advertising that leads people to think the product will in fact deliver as promised.
The advertisement of converting plain water into fuel for a car is among the products with exaggerated claims. Yes it is true that hydrogen will burn as a fuel . However it is also true that the amount of energy needed to electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules for use as a fuel in a car engine is greater than the energy derived from the engine burning that fuel mix..
Some companies offer to tell you how to build solar panels for very little money and thus reduce or eliminate your electric utility bills. However they fail to mention that in order to successfully convert solar power into something you can sell back to the utility company requires thousands of dollars of additional equipment. The claim that it will run your appliances is marginally true but only if you first spend money on a good battery bank and also a good high power inverter. It remains to be seen if this will run your appliances for very long. Not all appliances a re equally efficient.
Although there is a lot of activity in some states to allow an independent power producer to sell power back to the utility; this is by no means universal. Even where this is allowed , the cost of making a safe power generator that sells power back to the utility can be considerable. A lineman’s greatest fear when doing storm damage repair is that someone will power up an emergency generator and back feed dangerously high voltages to the downed grid. I personally know one former lineman with his hand and foot blown off because he got electrocuted that way. Everyone figured it was safe for him to work on the downed line, but something unforseen happened and he got electrocuted. As a consequence all power utility companies are extremely careful about certifying an installation as approved to supply power back to the grid.
Wind generator companies probably make the least exaggerated claims but what they cannot tell you is how much wind and for how long it will blow. I have been at shows where we set up a small wind turbine for show and tell. People can feel a breeze ruffling their hair or even tugging at their loose clothing but the wind turbine was not spinning. Why they ask. My explanation that the light breeze was below the stall speed of the turbine is not really understood or believed. They figure I am somehow just snowing them. Many people simply do not understand the technical details involved. To them if they can feel any breeze it must be able to generate power.
Most people understand that flowing water should be capable of generating power. What most people may not be familiar with is why government agencies charged with the protection and encouragement of fishing as a food industry will not allow unregulated use of streams and rivers for hydro-electric generation if such use blocks fish migration and stops future generations of fish. Only when a lucrative fishing industry collapses totally does the truth sink in, but by then its too late.
Now that so many companies are beginning to advertise, it is more important than ever for people to be aware of and educated in the technical details of what is involved in going off grid.
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