A hot mama recently emailed to ask about her air conditioning. She had gone out of her way to pay extra every month for wind and other green power alternatives from her electric company. She wanted to know if buying green power meant she could run her air conditioning willy nilly and as much and as long as she wanted, and the lowest temperature possible, especially considering she already had the following on practically full-time in her babe's nursery: air purifier, white noise machine, lullabies, and nightlight. She was considering installing solar panels if buying green energy wasn't cutting it. I commend her for her forward (wishful) thinking. And, after a recent few particularly hot nights where I live, I must admit I wondered just the same thing (I also pay for wind power). Eager to get to the bottom of this for all the hot green mamas around, I emailed my very own Daily Green editor Dan Shapley. We have an interesting relationship -- he defers to me for, say, safe deodorants. I ask him about this sort of thing.
As I surmised, we're of course not allowed to turn the air conditioning on at full blast at super low temperatures, even if we're purchasing cleaner energy.
"When you opt to buy renewable energy, you are choosing to pay a particular energy provider for the energy you consume, but you aren't choosing the actual electrons generated by that energy producer. If I buy wind power where I live, I'm still getting electrons, most likely, from the coal plants on the Hudson. You're most likely getting yours from Indian Point nuclear power plant. Your dollars are going to some upstate wind farm, but the electrons are still being generated "locally". It's more complicated than that, but given the way the grid works, you're not able to choose to run your meter from a specific source.
"Therefore, I'd say if you're concerned about the issues surrounding energy production, making the decision to purchase renewable energy is an economic choice that supports your favored energy production type, and it fosters the market for that energy source, which is a good thing. But reducing your energy demand will still result in lower emissions/impact from traditional power producers, given the realities of the way the electrical grid works."
If you happen to have gone a step further by installing solar panels, this situation changes. From Dan:
"If you make all you use, and use all you make, you break even. If you make more than you use, in states with net metering laws, you get compensated by the local utility for the excess power you produced, and you can apply that credit to a bill when you use more than you produce. Most homes aren't net-zero, even with the added energy production, so it still makes sense to use less because you'll pay less. Also, if you're adding renewable electrons to the grid those are electrons that don't have to be generated by the coal plant down the road, so you're still contributing to the lessening the demand on that plant if you use less energy."
Solar panels might work for the mom who emailed me, but the management at my apartment building in New York couldn't be less interested in solar panels (I've asked). My current compromise is to leave the A.C. and other electronics off all day. We're rarely home anyway, spending most of our time cooling off in a wide array of excellent city-run sprinklers. When we are here around lunchtime, I leave the lights off. When really needed, I run the monster overnight, never lower than 75 degrees F.
Where I live, I only really need air conditioning (basically) nights in August and some of September. The sun seems to bake the concrete jungle all of June and July and then in August it's just impossible to cool down. I used to manage in the pre-parenthood years, barely, but the kid wakes up every hour on the hour if she's too hot. And I draw my environmental dedication line at total sleep deprivation. I make up for it in other ways.
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