We are living in a time of great changes that include economic turmoil, weather disasters, and many ramifications of the growing human population on this planet.

Advocates of alternative energy have reason to hope despite a Congress that sometimes appears indifferent, ignorant or uncaring regarding the need for sustainable energy systems. Subsidies, grants, and donations help keep alive the various nonprofit organizations that advocate change to renewable energy technologies.

I am writing this paper in the hope of enlarging the scope of our thinking about progress toward restructuring the electrical supply systems and energy in general.

If we think of a subsidy as being only the money that is given freely to support a product or service we will be underestimating some very subtle forces that result in the same effect as a monetary subsidy. Monetary subsidies help guarantee that products or services stay in business. They provide support during hard times. There are several more kinds of “subsidy” whose net effect is tantamount to monetary subsidy. These are briefly discussed below.

Subsidy by Captive Market

Sprawling cities with lousy public transit options exert powerful pressure on people to buy cars. Although motorcycles let you go the distance with much less energy than cars require, they are not seen as adequate options by most people, ergo, people buy cars.

Keep them buying because they have no other option. There are several variations of this principle. If you own a car you must have gasoline to keep it running. If you own a badly designed house, you must have plentiful energy to keep it comfortable. You will have to cool it in the summer and heat it in the winter. It’s easy to think energy providers have reason to hope people will not build passive solar homes that require much less energy to operate than the cutsy erg wasters found so often in modern America.

Provide a must have product with no competitors. When yours is the first design of its kind to go to market with a must have product, you have no competitors, so it is easier for your startup company to grow rapidly.

People become habituated to the routine that keeps them buying from you because it’s too difficult to buy somewhere else. Perhaps the distance is too great to shop in person or it’s to expensive to ship the product to you from distant suppliers.

In essence, a captive market is a kind of subsidy by design since you are guaranteed an income because your customers have nowhere else to go.

Subsidy by Insufficient information

People cannot buy what they do not know exists and, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Even though the media may be making some information available, until it is practically ubiquitous across all types of media, the general acceptance of the new technology is slow to catch on.

People may like a new product although they lack the ability to maintain it. They may be scared of it. They may not understand it. They may not believe they know enough to protect themselves from unscrupulous contractors.

Schools inadvertently protect status quo by making graduates into "pluggins" for industries that are reluctant to change. Much research and development is kept secret until the company’s economic security is assured. This helps assure consumers will make wrong choices because of ignorance about new products about to become available. The money to buy the new products will already have been misspent before the new products get to market.

Hyperbole in advertising misguides buyers by misinforming about a products capability. Instead of encouraging adequate comparison shopping, marketers design advertising to force impulse buying -- it just feels right. Judgmental thinking requires comparing adequate amounts of facts between products. Solar technology, for example, can hold its own when judgmental thinking is allowed with adequate information.

Subsidy by Cultural Tradition

People are imprinted by early childhood experiences. We look to what we have seen in the past to solve today's problems. We are creatures of habit. These habits inhibit the inception of new technologies.

Subsidy by Government Projects

This is one of the most important ways new technology can become common in society. When the government decides to support a new technology many problems that would have been obstacles disappear. On the other hand, governments that refuse to aid startup companies can seriously delay the introduction of new products into society. Between policy and law, government spending can make or break new technologies. This is one reason I think alternative energy technologies will dominate only if they achieve their power from grass roots movements. When it truly is the popular will of the people of the country it will be hard to stop the progress.

Once the government begins installing alternative energy systems routinely, it becomes the way to go. Photovoltaic, wind, micro-hydro, cogeneration, biomass conversion and other alternate energy technologies suddenly get economy of scale working for them when the government starts making big purchases. Lack of economy of scale is one of the obstacles that makes it difficult for new technologies to compete in established markets. An example of crucial subsidization from the government is farm subsidies. These subsidies help farmers survive the forces of nature that prevent predictable crop production.

Subsidy by Mutually Supporting Systems

These are back scratching businesses,---- cars need oil,---oil needs cars. Sell the potato chips cheap, the chip dip expensive. How can alternative energy people come up with essential products that, in effect, result in the creation of back scratching businesses that exist in solid market niches?

Subsidy by Forced Cooperation

What good is a car if you can’t get gasoline to keep it running? What good are cookies without milk?

Need electricity? If your only affordable option short term is to go to the electricity grid without net metering, then you are in effect subsidizing the competitors of alternative energy providers. Sure, green pricing schemes that allow you to choose your energy source may help some, but this pricing method helps assure big, centralized, (and therefore wasteful) distribution schemes.

What if banks would allow you 40 years to pay off your new roof mounted solar panels or your compost powered microturbine, like they allow paying off big, centralized, coal or oil fired, power plants?

Lack of true net metering means established energy suppliers get to keep an economic advantage over you. It also means more carbon dioxide will go into the air for each useful thing accomplished with energy shipped over long supply lines. Distributed generation schemes (such as roof mounted pv) make it possible to waste less energy in the distribution transformers.

Subsidy by Popularizing

Everybody is doing it. Fads sell by peer pressure. Advertising makes it look ubiquitous.

Safety in numbers--don’t draw too much attention to yourself or people might look at you funny.


Status quo has social inertia helping preserve it.  Making new products happen is often a process of overcoming social inertia. Sometimes it takes years of looking at something before people are willing to try it.

Friends helping friends is the best possible advertising. Successfully living with solar energy does more to encourage solar living than all the talk in the world can do. There is an enthusiasm that comes from knowing first hand that solar technology works and that enthusiasm can’t be gleaned from advertising that comes at you from the media. It’s like hearing about the bang a firecracker makes or actually experiencing it!

The presence of alternative energy systems has a powerful stabilizing influence on the economy of the country as a whole. Besides the ability to tap energy sources other than fossil fuels, there is a richness of engineering, architecture and design that results from making practical products that use alternative energy.

As these products become more common in our society, local self reliance strengthens and wasteful energy practices decline. The energy restructuring that is happening all over the country will have many positive effects resulting from the consequential diversity and conservation. Many places can survive disastrous weather better by avoiding downed power lines and having backup generating systems. In addition, the ability to generate power locally with solar and other resources makes us less vulnerable to rising oil prices.

Problems arising from the Greenhouse Effect may become more severe in the future. Average, global, per capita, CO2 production must decline for us to make progress against the mounting problems resulting from the Greenhouse Effect. In the future, I believe governments will go beyond merely making policy in attempts to curb global warming. A range of laws and services aimed at lowering per capita CO2 production will happen at an accelerating rate.

Disaster relief for weather victims will help people accept the value of alternative energy systems. *****

We may be seeing ever more need for disaster relief for large populations in the future.  Many people have been made suddenly homeless by natural disasters and human caused problems.  Tower Towns can be a way of helping people made homeless have a place to live.


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