Cheap Seats 2019
Green They Ain’t - 11/06
By Rich Trzupek
One of the consequences of “going green” is the opportunity to create new sales pitches that will resonate among consumers who believe that planet earth is in need of saving. There are many products that associate themselves with green messaging, but for now let’s focus on two: the Patriot Power Generator and Pennzoil motor oil.
The Patriot Power Generator is what many of us would call a “battery” in that it stores power that is generated elsewhere rather than actually producing it. So although I’m sure the people selling it are fine folks, their choice of name is a bit misleading. The actual power contained within the unit is generated by your local utility or by nuclear fusion in the sun.
It’s the latter source of power that gives the battery its green street credit. The unit comes with “free” solar panels, providing you with a method of recharging that is both eco-friendly and gratis – assuming the sun is shining when you need to recharge the thing.
At least one commercial focuses on using the battery to keep your refrigerator running during a power outage. How would that work, you may wonder. According to their website a new, fully charged Patriot Power Generator holds 600 watt-hours worth of power. A typical household fridge uses about 50 – 60 watts of juice per hour. Ergo, you’ll get about 10 hours or so of operation off the grid when using this battery.
A couple of issues come immediately to mind. First, you only get those 10 or so hours if you don’t plug anything else that uses significant amounts of electricity into the thing. Second, if you do nothing but leave your refrigerator closed during a power outage anything stored in it should be good for about four hours without any power at all. The battery buys you an extra six or so hours of safe refrigerator operating temperatures.
In my experience, most power outages last less than an hour, so refrigerator battery back-up is not necessary. And, if the outage is going to last for more than four hours, I’m surely going to want to run a lot more than the family fridge, which is why people who are serious about back up power usually purchase generators that run on gasoline or natural gas.
And speaking of natural gas, how about that Pennzoil commercial that encourages you to buy their synthetic motor oil because it is made from natural gas, which their spokesperson assures us is “natural.” This apparently should make it more eco-friendly than competing oils derived from nasty old crude oil.
Now I enjoy my fossil fuels as much as the next fellow so let’s not trash one at the expense of another. Dinosaurs died to give us both. Yes the name “crude oil” does include an adjective that has a negative connotation. That does not make crude oil any less natural than natural gas, nor does it make a synthetic made from crude any less green than a synthetic made from natural gas.
Simply put, synthetic motor oil is made by taking apart naturally-occurring hydrocarbons and putting them back together. Whether those hydrocarbons come from natural gas or oil really doesn’t matter. And, like crude oil, natural gas has to be refined before it can be used for anything. As it comes out of the ground, natural gas contains a lot of undesirable elements, like sulfur compounds (as just one example).
None of what I have written is intended to disparage the products being sold. Both, I’m sure, have a market. My beef, such as it is, is with how these and many more products are being sold. The old saying is “let the buyer beware”. That’s even more true when it comes to green advertising.