Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Soapbox Monday: Power at a premium

An "smart" outlet being designed by Sony would give people access to power ... if they paid for it through the plug.

Soapbox Monday: Power at a premium

I'm one of those annoying people who thinks we should actually be paying more for household electricity.

That way, we might use less of it.

So poor people wouldn't be penalized, the system could be weighted. The first X number of kWh would come cheap. It would be a family baseline. The next X would be more expensive.  The X after that would be really expensive. So people could still have their eight-bedroom mansions and their hot tubs. They'd just pay more to power it all.

One thing that makes me think this is actually possible is news I read Friday on Mother Nature Network about "smart power outlets" in public places -- like coffee shops -- that make you pay for the power you're using.

Ecojournalist Russell McLendon writes that city coffee shops have been cracking down on "laptop hobos." The idea of Starbucks and others was that they'd provide free WiFi. But now, apparently, too many people come in, plunk down a few bucks for coffee and stay there for hours, taking up precious real estate, not spending any more money ... and charging their laptop and cell phone batteries for free to boot.

As electricity prices rise, this is going to become more and more of an issue for shop owners.

A smart outlet being developed by Sony would at least ensure that the coffee shop would get something back for the power. People would pay for it through the plug. Eventually, the device that the user employs to access the power could be used in all sorts of applications -- like charging an electric car. See the You Tube video below from Sony for more info.

Good idea. As a journalist, I'm frequently on the prowl for outlets. I carry not only my laptop's power cord, but also an extension cord and an adapter. Once, filing a story from South Jersey, I was unable to get the  Internet connection at the local library to work. (The library also had a posted time limit on outlet use.) So I wound up at a nearby McDonald's, which did have WiFi, and where a compassionate man sitting nearby -- with his own computer -- showed me where a secret outlet was, up near the ceiling.

I plugged in, logged on and wrote my story. Alas, I only bought a soda. Sorry, McDonald's. I promise I'll do better next time.

Since this is Soapbox Monday, we'd love to hear from you. What do you think are the best ways and policies for people to access -- and possibly pay for -- power in public?  Please comment below.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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