Using a helicopter and a large tank of heated water to deice a windmill so it can continue to reduce fossil fuel use and global warming. (source)
Dispatches from District 48
Posts tagged ‘fuel’
Using a helicopter and a large tank of heated water to deice a windmill so it can continue to reduce fossil fuel use and global warming. (source)
What does government energy policy have in common with government food advice? Every 30-40 years the Federal government reverses itself 180 degrees and declares all the stuff that they said was bad before is now good today.
Case in point: Coal-fired electrical generation. Coal is pretty much the bette noir of environmentalists today, so much so that Obama actually pledged to kill the coal industry when he was running for office. The combination of new regulation combined with the rapid expansion of cheap natural gas supplies has done much to kill coal use (as illustrated by this bankruptcy today).
But many people may not realize that the rise of coal burning in power plants in the US was not just driven by economics -- it was mandated by government policy
Federal policies moved in coal's favor in the 1970s. With the Middle East oil crisis, policymakers began to adopt policies to try and shift the nation toward greater coal consumption, which was a domestic energy resource. The Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act of 1974 directed the Federal Energy Administration to prohibit the use of oil or natural gas by electric utilities that could use coal, and it authorized the FEA to require that new electric power plants be able to use coal. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 extended those powers for two years and authorized $750 million in loan guarantees for new underground low-sulfur mines. Further pro-coal mandates were passed in the late-1970s.
I was aware of the regulations at the time as I was working in an oil refinery in the early 80's and it affected us a couple of ways. First, it killed demand for low-sulphur heavy fuel oil. And second, it sidelined several co-generation projects that made a ton of sense (generating electricity and steam from wasted or low-value portions of the oil barrel) but ran afoul of these coal mandates.
A reader sent me this article on renewables by Tom Randall at Bloomberg. I would like to spend more time thinking about it, but here are a few thoughts. [Ed: sorry, totally forgot the link. duh.]
First, I would be thrilled if things like wind and solar can actually become cheaper, without government subsidies, than current fossil fuels. I have high hopes for solar and am skeptical about wind, but leave that aside.
Second, I think he is selling renewables the wrong way, and is in fact trumpeting something as a good thing that really is not so good. His argument is that the decline in capacity factors for natural gas and coal plants is a sign of the success of renwables. The whole situation is complex, and a real analysis would require looking at the entire power system as a whole (which neither of us are doing). But my worry is that all the author has done is to demonstrate a unaccounted-for cost of renewables, that is the reduction in efficiency of coal and natural gas plants without actually being able to replace them.
Here is his key chart. It purports to show the total US capacity factor of each energy mode, with capacity factor defined as the total electricity output of the plant divided by what the electricity output could be if the plant ran full-out 24/7/365.
First, there is a problem with this chart in terms of its data selection -- one has to be careful looking at intra-year variations in capacity factor because they vary a lot seasonality, both due to weather and changes in relative fuel prices. Also, one has to be hugely suspicious when someone is claiming a long term trend but only shows 18 months of data. The EIA can provide some of the data for a few years ahead of his table. You can see it is pretty volatile.
I won't dwell on the matter of data selection, because it is not the main point I want to make, but the author's chart looks suspiciously like cherry-picking endpoints.
The point I do want to make is that reducing the capacity utilization, and thus efficiency, is a COST not a benefit as he makes it out. Things would be different if renewables replaced a lot of fossil fuel capacity at the peak utilization of the day (the total capacity of a power system has to be sized to the peak daily demand). But the peak demand in most Western countries occurs late in the day, long after solar has stopped producing. Germany, which relies the most on solar, has studied this and found their peak electricity demand is around 6PM, a time where solar provides essentially nothing. Wind is a slightly different problem, because of its hour to hour unpredictability, but suffice it to say that it can't be counted on in advance on any particular day to provide power at the peak.
This means that one STILL has to have the exact same fossil fuel plant capacity as one did without renewables. Yes, it runs less during the day and burns less fuel, but it still must be built and exist and be staffed and in many cases it still must be burning some fuel (even if producing zero electricity) to be hot and ready to go.
The author is arguing for a virtuous circle where reductions in capacity factors of fossil fuel plants from renewables increases the total cost per KwH of electricity from fossil fuels (because the capital cost is amortized over fewer kilowatts). This is technically true, but it is not the way power companies have to look at it. Power companies have got to build capacity to the peak. With current technologies, that means fossil fuel capacity has to be built to the peak irregardless of their capacity factor. If these plants have to be built anyway to cover for renewables when they disappear during the day, then the capital costs are irrelevant at the margin. And the marginal cost of operations and producing power from these plants, since they have to continue to exist, is around $30-$40 a MwH, waaaay under renewables still.
In essence, the author is saying: hurray for renwables! We still have to have all the old fossil fuel plants but they run less efficiently now AND we have paid billions of dollars to duplicate their function with wind and solar plants. We get to pay twice for every unit of electricity capacity.
Environmentalists are big on arguing that negative externalities need to be priced and added to the cost of things that generate them -- thus the logic for a carbon tax. But doesn't that mean we should tax wind and solar, rather than subsidize them, to charge them for the inefficiently-run fossil fuel plants we have to keep around to fill in when renewables inevitably fail us at the peak time of the day?
By the way, speaking of subsidies, the author with a totally straight face argues that renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels with this chart:
He also says, "Wind power, including U.S. subsidies, became the cheapest electricity in the U.S. for the first time last year."
I hate to break it to the author, but a Ferrari would be cheaper than a Ford Taurus if the government subsidized it enough -- that means nothing economically other than the fact that the government is authoritarian enough to make it happen. All his chart shows is that solar is more expensive than coal and gas in every state.
And what the hell are those units on the left? Does Bloomberg not know how to annotate charts? Since 6 cents per Kw/hr is a reasonable electricity cost, my guess is that this is dollars per Mw/hr, but it is irritating to have to guess.
As readers will know, I am frustrated that the Feds continue to fuel a huge financial asset bubble. While I was wrong, so far, that the Feds would create consumer and industrial price inflation from their massive money printing operation, they have created an enormous price inflation in financial assets. Every week they pour more newly printed dollars into the hands of financial asset holders, and corporations have joined in the fun by taking advantage of low borrowing rates to buy back record amounts of their own shares. With both the Fed and publicly-traded corporations taking so many financial assets off the market at the same time investors have new cash to invest, someone has to create some new assets to buy.
Enter: The $500 million spec home. I kid you not.
LOL, I am betting the neighbors are not happy
As an upside, I suppose they are creating a future tourist attraction. Many of the great Gold Coast and Newport mansions of the late 19th century were too expensive for later generations to operate and ended up in the hands of non-profits and governments.
The story begins with a discovery that the permit under which Nestle's Arrowhead Water has been collecting water in the San Bernardino National Forest expired in 1988. LOL, oops. Environmental and other Leftish sites are calling for Nestle's head and somehow blaming Nestle for this.
As a permittee with the US Forest Service (USFS) in California and across the country, I can guess with pretty high confidence exactly what happened here. For years I was head of a trade group of recreation concessionaires (think lodges and guides and such) who do business in the USFS under permit. Most of these were located in California. For years, the biggest problem we have had with the USFS in California is that they are years and years behind in nearly all their permit renewals. There are literally hundreds of expired permit in the USFS in California alone.
For reasons that probably go to bureaucratic incentives, despite the Forest Service's huge budget, they are loath to allocate resources to renewing these permits -- they want to fill their organization with biologists and archaeologists and arborists, not contracts people. Making the situation worse, Forest Service and other Federal rules have burdened the permit renewal process with so many legal requirements that each one, even if trivial in size and impact, is absurdly time-consuming to complete.
This is not a new situation -- it has obtained for years. Almost five years ago I met personally with the Chief of the Forest Service in DC and begged for more resources to be assigned to permit renewals, but to no avail. I did the same in a meeting barely a month ago with the head of the USFS's Region 5 (basically California). All of us permittees have been vociferously complaining about this for years.
When you look at these situations, then, what you will see is not some evil private business trying to get over on the public, but a business that is literally screaming in frustration, year in and year out, begging the US Forest Service to address its permit renewal. Generally, local Forest Service staff will give the company verbal assurances that they should keep operating, so they do, continuing to pay their fees and operate within the guidelines of the old, expired contract.
I would be willing to bet a fair amount of money that this is exactly what happened to Nestle.
By the way, the usual groups seem to be piling on Nestle about bottled water from the Sacramento tap water system. A couple of comments:
President Obama is preparing to unleash a Colorado-River-sized torrent of stupid. He wants to spend tens of billions of dollars on goofy green energy projects that will have an indiscernible affect on world temperatures but will have a very robust effect on some crony bottom lines. Here is one example:
As part of President Obama’s plans to combat climate change, the White House announced a program on Friday for the U.S. Department of Energy to train 75,000 people to work in the solar power industry by 2020, many of whom will be part of a military veterans jobs initiative called Solar Ready Vets.
Seriously, is the training costs of workers really a substantial portion of a solar installation?
Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, which publishes the annual National Solar Jobs Census, said that Obama’s announcement will not likely increase the size of the solar industry’s workforce but will instead ensure that the industry will be able to find highly skilled workers to fill jobs.
“We’re experiencing difficulty finding more skilled and qualified workers to install and do design work required,” she said, adding that the industry’s workforce has a “skills gap” as well-trained electricians and other workers go back to other construction jobs as the economy gains momentum.
I will translate that trade-group speak for you: We like to pay our workers less than similarly-skilled construction workers so we lose a lot of skilled workers to higher paying construction companies. This program will not add any net employment to the economy but will help us keep wages lower by increasing the supply of qualified workers.
I can't help but think of Henry Ford, who famously raised the wages of his employees substantially. The fake story is that he did this so all his workers could buy his product. The real reason he did this was that he had horrendous labor turnover problems. Like the solar industry, he was training folks who then left for higher paying jobs. So he had to raise his wages to retain trained people. How history would have changed if Ford had instead been able to call Obama and ask him to have the taxpayer pay to feed him with new, trained workers so he wouldn't have to raise his wage rates!
Seriously, did a bunch of technocrats get together and study the whole solar industry and come to the conclusion that solar installation skills were the keystone problem that was holding back the whole industry? Of course not. The solar industry will sink or swim based on panel costs and efficiencies. What happened is someone said, "well the public always seems to like job training programs. Those poll well." And then they called the solar crony association or whatever it is called and they said, "sure, we would love to have taxpayers pay some of our training costs. Thanks, we will be very supportive." And then someone said, "well, won't the Republicans pitch a fit over this?" And then someone had the brilliant idea of making it a veterans program -- "Republicans love soldiers, that will help defuze their opposition." And an expensive crony giveaway was born.
About 5 years ago I said I would be willing to accept a carbon tax whose proceeds were used to reduce various labor tax rates (e.g. social security). Substituting an energy consumption tax for a labor consumption tax was probably at least neutral and maybe even a net positive.
Now, I want to come back to that idea. I don't believe any more than I did then that CO2-driven global warming will be catastrophic. In fact, I am more confident than ever that while CO2-induced warming is a reality, the sensitivity of temperatures to CO2 levels is relatively low. But please, I am willing to fully support a carbon tax that offsets some other existing tax if only we will stop all this stupid crony useless green energy stuff. At least with a carbon tax, the markets will reduce fossil fuel use in the most efficient ways possible. As opposed to programs like this one that will reduce fossil fuel use not at all but will cost a lot of money.
I really, really did not want to have to write yet another post on this. 99+% of all climate funding goes to alarmists rather than skeptics. Greenpeace laments donations of funds to skeptics by Exxon of a million dollars or so and wants to drive out all such funding when Greenpeace and Tides and the US Government are giving literally billions to alarmists. Despite this staggering imbalance, the only stories you ever see are about the dangers and bias introduced by that measly 1% skeptics get. I guess that 1% is spent pretty well because it sure seems to have people running in circles declaring the sky is falling.
One would think that at some point the world would wake up and realize that criticizing the funding sources behind an individual does not actually rebut that individual's arguments.
Potential bias introduced by funding sources (or some other influence) are a pointer -- they are an indication there might be a problem warranting deeper examination of the evidence introduced and the methodology of collecting that evidence. Such potential biases are not themselves evidence, and do nothing to rebut an argument. A reasonable way to use such biases in an argument would be something like:
I want to begin by noting that Joe may have had a predisposition to his stated conclusion even before he started because of [funding source, political view, whatever]. This means we need to very carefully look at how he got to his conclusion. And I intend to show you that he made several important errors that should undermine our acceptance of his conclusions. They are....
Unfortunately, nowadays people like the New York Times and our own Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva seem to feel like the job is done after the first sentence. They have decided that the best way to refute recent scientific work by a number of climate scientists is to try to show that some of their funding comes from fossil fuel companies.
Beyond the strange implicit assumption that fossil fuel funding would automatically "disprove" a research paper, there is also an assumption that oil company funding is "unclean" while government or non-profit environmental group funding is "clean". Remember the last time you saw a news story about a climate alarmist's funding? Yeah, neither do I.
There is no justifiable reason for this asymmetry. Funding does not potentially introduce bias because it is sourced from for-profit or non-profit entities. In fact, the motivation of the funding source is virtually irrelevant. The only relevant questions related to bias are:
My sense is that #1 is rare and that the real issue is #2.
But #2 is ubiquitous. Sure, if a group of skeptical scientists suddenly started writing papers about 8 degree warming predictions, Chevron is going to be less likely to fund their future research. But on the flip side if Michael Mann suddenly started saying that future warming will only be a modest 1-2 degrees, do you think that he would continue to get funding from Greenpeace, the Tides Foundation, the WWF, or even from an Obama-run Federal agency? No way. There is absolutely no less bias introduced by Chevron funding than from Greenpeace funding, because in each case there can be a reasonable fear by the researcher that future funding would be denied by that source if the "right" answer was not reached.
Postscript & Disclosure of Biases: I have never received any outside funding for this blog or my climate work. However, if Chevron were to send me a check for a million dollars, I would probably cash it. I do own individual shares of ExxonMobil stock as well as shares of the Vanguard S&P500 index fund, which includes equities of a number of energy companies. I also am a frequent purchaser of gasoline and electricity, as well as a number of other products and services whose prices are tied to energy prices (e.g. air transportation). As a consumer, I would rather not see the prices of these products rise. I buy a lot of food, whose price might be improved by longer growing seasons. My camping company tends to benefit from rising gasoline prices, because rising prices causes people to stay closer to home and camp at the type of places we operate. It is hard to predict how regional climates will change if overall global temperatures rise, but since many of my campgrounds are summer escapes at high altitude, they would probably benefit somewhat from rising temperatures. I own a home in Arizona whose value would probably be lessened if the world warmed 2-3 degrees, because it would make winters in the northeast and midwest more bearable and thus hurt Arizona as a location for a winter second home. Global warming may reduce the life of my dog as we are less likely to walk her when it is over 100 degrees out which makes her less healthy. I own land in Hawaii that might be more valuable if sea level rises puts it 6-8 inches close to the ocean. I am planning a vacation to see the tulips bloom in Holland and changes in climate could shift the blooming date and thus cause me to miss the best colors. Fifteen years from now my daughter would like a June wedding and changes to climate might cause it to rain that day. My daughter also owns 5 shares of Walt Disney and their earnings might be helped by global warming as nostalgia for cooler weather could greatly increase DVD sales of "Frozen".
I have mentioned a number of times my chicken or the egg arguments with Progressives on the solution to cronyism. Is the problem that government power exists to influence markets, and as long as it exists people will bid to control it? Or is it possible to wield massive make-or-break government power over industry rationally, and only the rank immorality and corrupt speech of corporations stands in the way. The former argues for a reduction in government power, the latter for more regulation of corporations and their ability to participate in the political process.
I believe this is an example in favor of the "power is inherently corrupting" argument. No corporation lobbied for NOx rules on diesel engines. They all fought it tooth and nail. But once these regulations existed, engine makers are all trying to use the laws to gut their competition:
In 1991, the EPA ignored complaints from several makers of non-road engines that rivals were cheating, in order to save fuel, on emissions rules for oxides of nitrous (NOx). Then environmental groups took up the same complaint, whereupon the agency demanded face-saving consent decrees with numerous engine makers, including two Volvo affiliates.
In essence, the engine makers apologized by agreeing in 1999 to accelerate by a single year compliance with a new emissions standard scheduled to take effect in 2006.
Meanwhile, with another NOx standard looming in 2010, Navistar sued the EPA claiming rival engine-makers were seeking to meet the rule with a defective technology. In turn, Navistar’s competitors sued claiming the EPA was unfairly favoring a defective technology pursued by Navistar (these are only the barest highlights of what became a truck-makers’ legal holy war).
While all this was going on, a Navistar joint-venture partner, Caterpillar, complained that 7,262 Volvo stationary engines made in Sweden before 2006 had violated the 1999 consent decree. Now let’s credit Caterpillar with a certain paperwork ingenuity: The Volvo engines were not imported to the U.S. and were made by a Volvo affiliate that wasn’t a party to the consent decree. EPA itself happily certified the engines under its then-current NOx standard, only changing its mind four years later, prodded by a competitor with a clear interest in damaging Volvo’s business.
To complete the parody, a federal district court would later agree that the 1999 consent terms “do not clearly apply” to the engines in question, but upheld an EPA penalty anyway because Volvo otherwise might enjoy a “competitive advantage” against engines to which the consent decree applied.
As a side note, this is from the "oops, nevermind" Emily Litella School of Regulation:
Let it be said that the EPA’s NOx regulation must have done some good for the American people, though how much good is hard to know. The EPA relies on dubious extrapolations to estimate the benefits to public health. What’s more, the agency appears to have stopped publishing estimates of NOx pollution after 2005. Maybe that’s because the EPA’s focus has shifted to climate change, and its NOx regulations actually increase greenhouse emissions by increasing fuel burn.
I got an email today from some random Gmail account asking me to write about HyrdoInfra. OK. The email begins: "HydroInfra Technologies (HIT) is a Stockholm based clean tech company that has developed an innovative approach to neutralizing carbon fuel emissions from power plants and other polluting industries that burn fossil fuels."
Does it eliminate CO2? NOx? Particulates? SOx? I actually was at the bottom of my inbox for once so I went to the site. I went to this applications page. Apparently, it eliminates the "toxic cocktail" of pollutants that include all the ones I mentioned plus mercury and heavy metals. Wow! That is some stuff.
Their key product is a process for making something they call "HyrdroAtomic Nano Gas" or HNG. It sounds like their PR guys got Michael Crichton and JJ Abrams drunk in a brainstorming session for pseudo-scientific names.
But hold on, this is the best part. Check out the description of HNG and how it is made:
Splitting water (H20) is a known science. But the energy costs to perform splitting outweigh the energy created from hydrogen when the Hydrogen is split from the water molecule H2O.
This is where mainstream science usually closes the book on the subject.
We took a different approach by postulating that we could split water in an energy efficient way to extract a high yield of Hydrogen at very low cost.
A specific low energy pulse is put into water. The water molecules line up in a certain structure and are split from the Hydrogen molecules.
The result is HNG.
HNG is packed with ‘Exotic Hydrogen’
Exotic Hydrogen is a recent scientific discovery.
HNG carries an abundance of Exotic Hydrogen and Oxygen.
On a Molecular level, HNG is a specific ratio mix of Hydrogen and Oxygen.
The unique qualities of HNG show that the placement of its’ charged electrons turns HNG into an abundant source of exotic Hydrogen.
HNG displays some very different properties from normal hydrogen.
Some basic facts:
- HNG instantly neutralizes carbon fuel pollution emissions
- HNG can be pressurized up to 2 bars.
- HNG combusts at a rate of 9000 meters per second while normal Hydrogen combusts at a rate 600 meters per second.
- Oxygen values actually increase when HNG is inserted into a diesel flame.
- HNG acts like a vortex on fossil fuel emissions causing the flame to be pulled into the center thus concentrating the heat and combustion properties.
- HNG is stored in canisters, arrayed around the emission outlet channels. HNG is injected into the outlets to safely & effectively clean up the burning of fossil fuels.
- The pollution emissions are neutralized instantly & safely with no residual toxic cocktail or chemicals to manage after the HNG burning process is initiated.
Exotic Hyrdrogen! I love it. This is probably a component of the "red matter" in the Abrams Star Trek reboot. Honestly, someone please tell me this a joke, a honeypot for mindless environmental activist drones. What are the chemical reactions going on here? If CO2 is captured, what form does it take? How does a mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules in whatever state they are in do anything with heavy metals? None of this is on the website. On their "validation" page, they have big labels like "Horiba" that look like organizations thave somehow put their impremature on the study. In fact, they are just names of analytical equipment makers. It's like putting "IBM" in big print on your climate study because you ran your model on an IBM computer.
SCAM! Honestly, when you see an article written to attract investment that sounds sort of impressive to laymen but makes absolutely no sense to anyone who knows the smallest about of Chemistry or Physics, it is an investment scam.
But they seem to get a lot of positive press. In my search of Google, everything in the first ten pages or so are just uncritical republication of their press releases in environmental and business blogs. You actually have to go into the comments sections of these articles to find anyone willing to observe this is all total BS. If you want to totally understand why the global warming debate gets nowhere, watch commenter Michael at this link desperately try to hold onto his faith in HydroInfra while people who actually know things try to explain why this makes no sense.
Update: If you want an actual nano-material that absorbs various pollutants, this may be one.
In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper this month, economists at Texas A&M return to Cash for Clunkers, the 2009 stimulus fillip that dispensed vouchers worth as much as $4,500 if people turned in their old cars for destruction and bought a new set of wheels. Mark Hoekstra, Steven Puller and Jeremy West report their "striking" finding that the $3 billion program's two-month run subtracted between $2.6 billion and $4 billion from the auto industry.
The irony is that the goals were to help Detroit through the recession by subsidizing sales and to please the green lobby by putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road. By pulling forward purchases that consumers would make later anyway, the Obama Administration also hoped to add to GDP. Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, called Cash for Clunkers "very nearly the best possible countercyclical fiscal policy in an economy suffering from temporarily low aggregate demand."
The A&M economists had the elegant idea of comparing the buying behavior of Texas drivers who owned cars that barely qualified for cash (those that got 18 miles per gallon of gas or less) and those that barely did not (19 mph). Using state DMV sales records, this counterfactual allowed them to isolate the effects of the Cash for Clunkers incentives and show what would have happened without the program.
The two groups were equally likely to purchase a new vehicle over the nine month period that started with Cash for Clunkers, so the subsidy did not create any extra auto business. But in order to meet the fuel efficiency mandate, consumers who got the subsidy were induced to purchase smaller vehicle models with less horsepower that cost on average $2,500 to $3,000 less than those bought by their ineligible peers. The clunkers bought more Corollas, and everybody else more Chevys.
Extrapolated nationally, auto revenues may have plunged by more than what the government spent. And any environmental benefits cannot be justified under the federal social cost of carbon estimate of $33 a ton. Prior research from 2009 and 2013 has shown that the program cost between $237 and $288 a carbon ton.
Charles Frank of Brookings has looked at the relative returns of various energy investments in the context of reducing CO2. The results: The best answer is natural gas, with nothing else even close. Solar and Wind can't even justify their expense, at least from the standpoint of reducing CO2. Here is the key chart (Hat tip Econlog)
Note that this is not a calculation of the economic returns of these types of power plants, but a relative comparison of how much avoided costs, mainly in CO2 emissions (valued at $50 per ton), there are in switching from coal to one of these fuel sources. Natural gas plants are the obvious winner. It remains the winner over solar and wind even if the value of a ton of CO2 is doubled to $100 and both these technologies are assumed to suddenly get much more efficient. Note by the way that unlike wind and solar (and nuclear), gas substitution for coal plant yields a net economic benefit (from reduced fuel and capital costs) above and beyond the avoided emissions -- which is why gas is naturally substituting right now for coal even in the absence of a carbon tax of some sort to impose a cost to CO2 emissions.**
I was actually surprised that wind did not look even worse. I think the reason for this is in how the author deals with wind's reliability issues -- he ends up discounting the average capacity factor somewhat. But this understates the problem. The real reliability problem with wind is that it can stop blowing almost instantaneously, while it takes hours to spin up other sorts of power plants (gas turbines being the fastest to start up, nuclear being the slowest). Thus power companies with a lot of wind have to keep fossil fuel plants burning fuel but producing no power, an issue called hot backup. This issue has proved itself to substantially reduce wind's true displacement potential, as they found in Germany and Denmark.
There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world's most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power's unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).
Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark's largest energy utilities) tells us that "wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions." The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that "Germany's CO2 emissions haven't been reduced by even a single gram," and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.
Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character.
** Postscript: The best way to read this table, IMO, is to take the net value of capacity and energy substitution and compare it to the CO2 savings value.
The first line is just from the first line of the table above. The second is essentially the net of all the other lines.
I think this makes is clearer what is going on. For wind, we invest
$106,697 for $132,030 $132,030 for $106,697 in emissions reduction (again, I think the actual number is lower). In Solar, we invest $258,322 for $69,502 in emissions reduction. For gas, on the other hand, we have no net investment -- we actually have a gain in these other inputs from the switch -- and then we also save $416,534. In other words, rather than paying, we are getting paid to get $416,534 in emissions reduction. That is not several times better than Solar and Wind, it is infinitely better.
Postscript #2: Another way to look at this -- if you put on a carbon tax in the US equal to $50 per ton of CO2 that fuel would produce, then it still likely would make no sense to be building wind or solar plants unless there remained substantial subsidies for them (e.g. investment tax credits, direct subsidies, guaranteed loans, above-market electricity pricing, etc). What we would see is an absolute natural gas plan craze.
I have not written much about climate of late because my interest, err, runs hot and cold. As most readers know, I am in the lukewarmer camp, meaning that I accept that Co2 is a greenhouse gas but believe that catastrophic warming forecasts are greatly exaggerated (in large part by scientifically unsupportable assumptions of strong net positive feedback in the climate system). If what I just said is in any way news to you, read this and this for background.
Anyway, one thing I have been saying for about 8 years is that when the history of the environmental movement is written, the global warming obsession will be considered a great folly. This is because global warming has sucked all the air out of almost anything else in the environmental movement. For God sakes, the other day the Obama Administration OK'd the wind industry killing more protected birds in a month than the oil industry has killed in its entire history. Every day the rain forest in the Amazon is cleared away a bit further to make room for ethanol-making crops.
This picture demonstrates a great example of what I mean. Here is a recent photo from China:
You might reasonably say, well that pollution is from the burning of fossil fuels, and the global warming folks want to reduce fossil fuel use, so aren't they trying to fight this? And the answer is yes, tangentially. But here is the problem: It is an order of magnitude or more cheaper to eliminate polluting byproducts of fossil fuel combustion than it is to eliminate fossil fuel combustion altogether.
What do I mean? China gets a lot of pressure to reduce its carbon emissions, since it is the largest emitter in the world. So it might build a wind project, or some solar, or some expensive high speed rail to reduce fossil fuel use. Let's say any one of these actions reduces smog and sulfur dioxide and particulate pollution (as seen in this photo) by X through reduction in fossil fuel use. Now, let's take whatever money we spent in, say, a wind project to get X improvement and instead invest it in emissions control technologies that the US has used for decades (coal plant scrubbers, gasoline blending changes, etc) -- invest in making fossil fuel use cleaner, not in eliminating it altogether. This same money invested in this way would get 10X, maybe even up to 100X improvement in these emissions.
By pressuring China on carbon, we have unwittingly helped enable their pollution problem. We are trying to get them to do 21st century things that the US can't even figure out how to do economically when in actuality what they really need to be doing is 1970's things that would be relatively easy to do and would have a much bigger impact on their citizen's well-being.
Rolling Stone brings us an absolutely great example of an article that claims a trend without actually showing the trend data, and where the actual data point to a trend in the opposite direction as the one claimed.
I won't go into the conclusions of the article. Suffice it to say it is as polemical as anything I have read of late and could be subtitled "the Tea Party and Republicans suck." Apparently Republicans are wrong to criticize government wildfire management and do so only because they suck, and the government should not spend any effort to fight wildfires that threaten private property but does so only because Republicans, who suck, make them. Or something.
What I want to delve into is the claim by the author that wildfires are increasing due to global warming, and only evil Republicans (who suck) could possibly deny this obvious trend (numbers in parenthesis added so I can reference passages below):
But the United States is facing an even more basic question: How should we manage fire, given the fact that, thanks to climate change, the destruction potential for wildfires across the nation has never been greater? In the past decade alone, at least 10 states – from Alaska to Florida – have been hit by the largest or most destructive wildfires in their respective histories (1). Nationally, the cost of fighting fires has increased from $1.1 billion in 1994 to $2.7 billion in 2011.(2)
The line separating "fire season" from the rest of the year is becoming blurry. A wildfire that began in Colorado in early October continued smoldering into May of this year. Arizona's first wildfire of 2013 began in February, months ahead of the traditional firefighting season(3). A year-round fire season may be the new normal. The danger is particularly acute in the Intermountain West, but with drought and record-high temperatures in the Northwest, Midwest, South and Southeast over the past several years, the threat is spreading to the point that few regions can be considered safe....
For wildland firefighters, the debate about global warming was over years ago. "On the fire lines, it is clear," fire geographer Michael Medler told a House committee in 2007. "Global warming is changing fire behavior, creating longer fire seasons and causing more frequent, large-scale, high-severity wildfires."...(4)
Scientists have cited climate change as a major contributor in some of the biggest wildfires in recent years, including the massive Siberian fires during a record heat wave in 2010 and the bushfires that killed 173 people in Australia in 2009.(5)...
The problem is especially acute in Arizona, where average annual temperatures have risen nearly three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit each decade since 1970, making it the fastest-warming state in the nation. Over the same period, the average annual number of Arizona wildfires on more than 1,000 acres has nearly quadrupled, a record unsurpassed by any other state and matched only by Idaho. One-quarter of Arizona's signature ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests have burned in just the past decade. (6)...
At a Senate hearing in June, United States Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell testified that the average wildfire today burns twice as many acres as it did 40 years ago(7). "In 2012, over 9.3 million acres burned in the United States," he said – an area larger than New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware combined. Tidwell warned that the outlook for this year's fire season was particularly grave, with nearly 400 million acres – more than double the size of Texas – at a moderate-to-high risk of burning.(8)
These are the 8 statements I can find to support an upward trend in fires. And you will note, I hope, that none of them include the most obvious data - what has the actual trend been in number of US wildfires and acres burned. Each of these is either a statement of opinion or a data point related to fire severity in a particular year, but none actually address the point at hand: are we getting more and larger fires?
Maybe the data does not exist. But in fact it does, and I will say there is absolutely no way, no way, the author has not seen the data. The reason it is not in this article is because it does not fit the "reporters" point of view so it is left out. Here is where the US government tracks fires by year, at the National Interagency Fire Center. To save you clicking through, here is the data as of this moment:
Well what do you know? The number of fires and the acres burned in 2013 are not some sort of record high -- in fact they actually are the, respectively, lowest and second lowest numbers of the last 10 years. In fact, both the number of fires and the total acres burned are running a third below average.
The one thing this does not address is the size of fires. The author implies that there are more fires burning more acres, which we see is clearly wrong, but perhaps the fires are getting larger? Well, 2012 was indeed an outlier year in that fires were larger than average, but 2013 has returned to the trend which has actually been flat to down, again exactly opposite of the author's contention (data below is just math from chart above)
In the rest of the post, I will briefly walk through his 8 statements highlighted above and show why they exhibit many of the classic fallacies in trying to assert a trend where none exists. In the postscript, I will address one other inconsistency from the article as to the cause of these fires which is a pretty hilarious of how to turn any data to supporting you hypothesis, even if it is unrelated. Now to his 8 statements:
(1) Again, no trend here, this is simply a single data point. He says that 10 states have set in one year or another in the last decade a record for one of two variables related to fires. With 50 states and 2 variables, we have 100 measurements that can potentially hit a record in any one year. So if we have measured fires and fire damage for about 100 years (about the age of the US Forest Service), then we would expect on average 10 new records every decade, exactly what the author found. Further, at least one of these -- costliness of the fires -- should be increasing over time due to higher property valuations and inflation, factors I am betting the author did not adjust for.
(2) This cost increase over 17 years represents a 5.4% per year inflation. It is very possible this is entirely due to changes in firefighting unit costs and methods rather than any change in underlying fire counts.
(3) This is idiotic, a desperate reach by an author with an axe to grind. Wildfires in Arizona often occur out of fire season. Having a single fire in the winter means nothing.
(4) Again, we know the data does not support the point. If the data does not support your point, find some "authority" that will say it is true. There is always someone somewhere who will say anything is true.
(5) It is true that there are scientists who have blamed global warming for these fires. Left unmentioned is that there are also scientists who think that it is impossible to parse the effect of a 0.5C increase in global temperatures from all the other potential causes of individual weather events and disasters. If there is no data to support a trend in the mean, it is absolutely irresponsible to claim causality in isolated data points in the tails of the distribution
(6) The idea that temperatures in Arizona have risen 3/4 a degree F for four decades is madness. Not even close. This would be 3F, and there is simply no basis in any reputable data base I have seen to support this. It is potentially possible to take a few AZ urban thermometers to see temperature increases of this magnitude, but they would be measuring mostly urban heat island effects, and not rural temperatures that drive wildfires (more discussion here). The statement that "the average annual number of Arizona wildfires on more than 1,000 acres has nearly quadrupled" is so awkwardly worded we have to suspect the author is reaching here. In fact, since wildfires average about 100 acres, the 1000 acre fire is going to be rare. My bet is that this is a volatility in small numbers (e.g. 1 to 4) rather than a real trend. His final statement that "One-quarter of Arizona's signature ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests have burned in just the past decade" is extremely disingenuous. The reader will be forgiven for thinking that a quarter of the trees in Arizona have burned. But in fact this only means there have been fires in a quarter of the forests -- a single tree in one forest burning would likely count for this metric as a forest which burned.
(7) This may well be true, but means nothing really. It is more likely, particularly given the evidence of the rest of the article, to be due to forest management processes than global warming.
(8) This is a data point, not a trend. Is this a lot or a little? And remember, no matter how much he says is at risk (and remember this man is testifying to get more budget money out of Congress, so he is going to exaggerate) the actual acreage burning is flat to down.
Postscript: The article contains one of the most blatant data bait and switches I have ever seen. The following quote is taken as-is in the article and has no breaks or editing and nothing left out. Here is what you are going to see. All the way up to the last paragraph, the author tells a compelling story that the fires are due to a series of USFS firefighting and fuel-management policies. Fair enough. His last paragraph says that Republicans are the big problem for opposing... opposing what? Changes to the USFS fire management practices? No, for opposing the Obama climate change plan. What?? He just spent paragraphs building a case that this is a fire and fuel management issue, but suddenly Republicans suck for opposing the climate change bill?
Like most land in the West, Yarnell is part of an ecosystem that evolved with fire. "The area has become unhealthy and unnatural," Hawes says, "because fires have been suppressed." Yarnell is in chaparral, a mix of small juniper, oak and manzanita trees, brush and grasses. For centuries, fires swept across the chaparral periodically, clearing out and resetting the "fuel load." But beginning in the early 1900s, U.S. wildfire policy was dominated by fire suppression, formalized in 1936 as "the 10 a.m. rule" – fires were to be extinguished by the morning after they were spotted; no exceptions. Back in the day, the logic behind the rule appeared sound: If you stop a fire when it's small, it won't become big. But wildland ecosystems need fire as much as they need rain, and it had been some 45 years since a large fire burned around Yarnell. Hawes estimates that there could have been up to five times more fuel to feed the Yarnell Hill fire than was natural.
The speed and intensity of a fire in overgrown chaparral is a wildland firefighter's nightmare, according to Rick Heron, part of another Arizona crew that worked on the Yarnell Hill fire. Volatile resins and waxy leaves make manzanita "gasoline in plant form," says Heron. He's worked chaparral fires where five-foot-tall manzanitas produced 25-foot-high flames. Then there are the decades of dried-up grasses, easily ignitable, and the quick-burning material known as "fine" or "flash" fuels. "That's the stuff that gets you," says Heron. "The fine, flashy fuels are just insane. It doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. But when the fire turns on you, man, you can't outdrive it. Let alone outrun it."
Beginning with the Forest Service in 1978, the 10 a.m. rule was gradually replaced by a plan that gave federal agencies the discretion to allow fires to burn where appropriate. But putting fire back in the landscape has proved harder to do in practice, where political pressures often trump science and best-management practices. That was the case last year when the Forest Service once again made fire suppression its default position. Fire managers were ordered to wage an "aggressive initial attack" on fires, and had to seek permission to deviate from this practice. The change was made for financial reasons. Faced with skyrocketing costs of battling major blazes and simultaneous cuts to the Forest Service firefighting budget, earlier suppression would, it was hoped, keep wildfires small and thus reduce the cost of battling big fires.
Some critics think election-year politics may have played a role in the decision. "The political liability of a house burning down is greater than the political liability of having a firefighter die," says Kierán Suckling, head of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "If they die, you just hope that the public narrative is that they were American heroes."
The problem will only get worse as extremist Republicans and conservative Democrats foster a climate of malign neglect. Even before President Obama unveiled a new climate-change initiative days before the fire, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the reported proposal as "absolutely crazy." Before he was elected to the Senate last November, Jeff Flake, then an Arizona congressman, fought to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding research on developing a new model for international climate-change analysis, part of a program he called "meritless." The biggest contributor to Flake's Senate campaign was the Club for Growth, whose founder, Stephen Moore, called global warming "the biggest myth of the last one hundred years."
By the way, the Yarnell firefighters did not die due to global warming or even the 10am rule. They died due to stupidity. Whether their own or their leaders may never be clear, but I have yet to meet a single firefighter that thought they had any business being where they were and as out of communication as they were.
Taxes are usually the heart of the discussion when people talk about the bad business climate in California. And certainly their taxes are just insanely high. But for folks like me, an even bigger barrier is the regulatory environment. We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion. In Ventura County, for example, we have a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.
A big reason for this is the regulation in California and in Ventura County. We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck. We added a 500 gallon fuel tank for fueling boats (to eliminate the unsafe practice of driving in and out of town with about 100 5-gallon fuel containers) and it took over 3-years of trekking to multiple county and state offices to get it permitted. We thus despaired of trying to get a campground expansion approved. Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million and Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up. And this is even before we fart with crazy California break laws and other nuttiness.
I have often told folks that I would love to see a liberal defender of all this regulatory overreach try to construct and open a restaurant in Ventura County. It would be fascinating to watch. (All this musing was touched off by this article on underground restaurants that try to sidestep this regulatory cost and mess). We are a service business and California still has a lot of money, so we still operate in California. But I continue to wonder why any company, like a manufacturer, remains in California. Sell there yes, but produce anything you can out of state and ship it in. Even as a service business we do a bit of this, no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California. Even our labor force is partially "imported", as we hire folks who live in their RV's to come from all over the country to live and work at our campgrounds.
As I read the other day, if Silicon Valley were not already in California, would anyone in their right mind put it there?
Postscript: One other story: California's regulatory environment has caused a real shift in the culture as well. At one location that we are closing this year, a local attorney has regular dinner meetings with groups of our employees to brainstorm among the group to see if they can come up with something to sue us over.
I had a discussion with a locavore-type person in Boulder, Colorado last week at their farmers market. He told me that while his costs to grow his produce were higher than the stuff I might find in Safeway, his products were more sustainable.
I asked him how that could be. I observed that in a well functioning market, the costs of his inputs should reflect their relative scarcity and the scarcity of the resources that went into them. Over time, particularly in a commodity market, prices were a sort of amazing scarcity integral. If his costs were higher, that should mean he is using more or scarcer resources. Isn't that the opposite of sustainability?
In fact, prices are such an amazing, almost magical, gauge of an item's resource intensity that it should tell us something that folks who purport to care about sustainability tend to have a disdain and distrust for markets and prices. Sure, I understand certain externalities (CO2, for example, if you accept it as one) are not necessarily priced in, but the mistrust of prices seems to go beyond this.
In this particular case, his argument was the food was local and so used a lot less resources in transportation, and organic, so used less fertilizer and other chemicals. But this is simply tipping the scales, trying to apply new weights and priorities to certain inputs that simply don't obtain in the real world. The locavore focus on transportation costs is amazing, as it focuses on just one narrow cost and energy input for food, ignoring the energy of production and the energy to deliver other inputs to the local farm. Take our situation in Phoenix -- sure, a local farmer used less energy to truck the finished food to market, but how much energy and other resources were used to move the water to grow it hundreds of miles to our desert here? Or what about land use -- organic local farming may save trucking and chemicals, but what if the yields per acre are a third of what one might get on the best soils in a another part of the country? Prices take into account the scarcity of not just tranportation fuel but land and labor as well. Sustainability advocates often want to put their thumb on the scales and overweight just one resource. That is why, for example, in the name of CO2 reduction we are clearing tons of virgin land, including land in the Amazon, to farm biofuel products.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am enormously skeptical of most fuel and efficiency numbers for electric vehicles. Electric vehicles can be quite efficient, and I personally really enjoy the driving feel of an electric car, but most of the numbers published for them, including by the government, are garbage. I have previously written a series of articles challenging the EPA's MPGe methodology for electric cars.
In just a bit, I am going to challenge some numbers in a recent WSJ article on electric vehicles, but first let me give you an idea of why I don't trust many people on this topic. Below is a statement from Fueleconomy.gov, which bills itself as the official government source for fuel economy information (this is a public information, not a marketing site). In reference to electric vehicles, it writes this:
Energy efficient. Electric vehicles convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels—conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels
The implication, then, is that electric vehicles are 3x more energy efficient than cars with gasoline engines. I hope engineers and scientists can see immediately why this statement is total crap, but for the rest, here is the problem in short: Electricity has to be produced, often from a fossil fuel. That step, of converting the potential energy in the fuel to use-able work, is the least efficient step of the entire fuel to work process. Even in the most modern of plants it runs less than a 50% conversion efficiency. So the numbers for the gasoline cars include this inefficient step, but for the electric vehicle it has been shuffled off stage, back to the power plant which is left out of the calculation.
Today I want to investigate this statement, which startled me:
Factor in the $200 a month he reckons he isn't paying for gasoline to fill up his hulking SUV, and Mr. Beisel says "suddenly the [Nissan Leaf] puts $2,000 in my pocket."
Yes, he pays for electricity to charge the Leaf's 24-kilowatt-hour battery—but not much. "In March, I spent $14.94 to charge the car" and a bit less than that in April, he says.
This implies that on a cost-per-mile basis, the EV is over 13x more efficient than gasoline cars. Is this a fair comparison? For those who do not want to read a lot of math, I will preview the answer: the difference in fuel cost per mile is at best 2x, and is driven not by using less fossil fuel (the electric car likely uses a bit more, when you go all the way back to the power plant) but achieves its savings by using lower cost, less-refined fossil fuels (e.g. natural gas in a large power plant instead of gasoline in a car).
Let's start with his estimate of $14.94. Assuming that is the purchased power into his vehicle charger, that the charger efficiency is 90%, and the cost per KwH in Atlanta is around $0.11, this implies that 122.24 use-able KwH are going into the car. Using an estimate of 3.3 miles per KwH for the Leaf, we get 403 miles driven per month or 3.7 cents per mile in electricity costs. This is very good, and nothing I write should imply that the Leaf is not an efficient vehicle. But its efficiency advantage is over-hyped.
Now let's take his $200 a month for his Ford Expedition, which has an MPG around 15. Based on fuel prices in Atlanta of $3.50 a gallon, this implies 57 gallons per month and 857 miles driven. The cost is 23.3 cents per mile.
Already we see one difference -- the miles driven assumptions are different. Either he, like a lot of people, don't have a reliable memory for how much he spent on gas, or he has changed his driving habits with the electric car (not unlikely given the shorter range). Either way, the total dollar costs he quotes are apples and oranges. The better comparison is 23.3 cents per mile for the Expedition vs. 3.7 cents a mile for the Leaf, a difference of about 6x. Still substantial, but already less than half the 13x difference implied by the article.
But we can go further, because in a Nissan Leaf, he has a very different car from the Ford Expedition. It is much smaller, can carry fewer passengers and less cargo, cannot tow anything, and has only 25% of the Expedition's range. With an electric motor, it offers a very different driving experience. A better comparison would be to a Toyota Prius, the c version of which gets 50MPG. It is similar in most of these categories except that it has a much longer range, but we can't fix that comparison, so just keep that difference in mind.
Let's look at the Prius for the same distances we calculated with his Leaf, about 403 miles. That would require 8.1 gallons in a Prius at $3.50, which would be $28.20 in total or 7 cents a mile. Note that while the Leaf still is better, the difference has been reduced to just under 2x. Perhaps more importantly, the annual fuel savings has been reduced from over $2200 vs. the Expedition that drove twice as many miles to $159 a year vs. the Prius driving the same number of miles. So the tradeoff is $159 a year savings but with much limited range (forgetting for a moment all the government crony-candy that comes with the electric car).
$159 is likely a real savings but could be swamped by differences in long-term operating costs. The Prius has a gasoline engine to maintain which the Leaf does not, though Toyota has gotten those things pretty reliable. On the other hand the Leaf has a far larger battery pack than the Prius, and there are real concerns that this pack (which costs about $15,000 to manufacture) may have to be replaced long before the rest of the car is at end of life. Replacing a full battery pack after even 10 years would add about $1200 (based on discounted values at 8%) a year to operating costs, swamping the fuel cost advantage.
Also note that a 2x difference in fuel costs per mile does not imply a 2x difference in fuel efficiency. Gasoline is very expensive vs. other fuels on a cost per BTU basis, due to taxes that are especially high for gasoline, blending requirements, refining intensity, etc.) Gasoline, as one person once said to me way back when I worked at a refinery, is the Filet Mignon of the barrel of oil -- if you can find a car that will feed on rump steak instead, you will save a lot of money even if it eats the same amount of meat. A lot of marginal electric production (and it is the margin we care about for new loads like electric cars) is natural gas, which is perhaps a third (or less) the cost of gasoline per BTU. My guess is that the key driver of this 2x cost per mile difference is not using less fuel per se, but the ability to use a less expensive, less-refined fuel.
Taking a different approach to the same problem, based on the wells-to-wheels methodology described in my Forbes article (which in turn was taken directly from the DOE), the Nissan Leaf has a real eMPG of about 42 (36.5% of the published 115), less than the Prius's at 50. This confirms the findings above, that for fossil fuel generated electricity, the Leaf uses a bit more fossil fuels than the Prius but likely uses much less expensive fuels, so is cheaper to drive. If the marginal electrical fuel is natural gas, the Leaf also likely generates a bit less CO2.
Bronson Beisel, 46, says he was looking last fall for an alternative to driving his gas-guzzling Ford Expedition sport utility around suburban Atlanta, when he saw a discounted lease offer for an all-electric Nissan Leaf. With $1,000 down, Mr. Beisel says he got a two-year lease for total out-of-pocket payments of $7,009, a deal that reflects a $7,500 federal tax credit.
As a resident of Georgia, Mr. Beisel is also eligible for a $5,000 subsidy from the state government. Now, he says, his out-of-pocket costs for 24 months in the Leaf are just over $2,000. Factor in the $200 a month he reckons he isn't paying for gasoline to fill up his hulking SUV, and Mr. Beisel says "suddenly the car puts $2,000 in my pocket."
Yes, he pays for electricity to charge the Leaf's 24-kilowatt-hour battery—but not much. "In March, I spent $14.94 to charge the car" and a bit less than that in April, he says. He also got an electric car-charging station installed at his house for no upfront cost.
"It's like a two-year test drive, free," he says.
I hope you all enjoy Mr. Beisel's smug pride a driving a car using your money.
In my next post, I am going to dive deeper in the operating cost numbers here. By the article, Mr. Beisel has cut his monthly fuel costs from $200 to $14.94, a savings of over 90%. If these numbers are real, why the hell do we have to subsidize these cars? Well, while it turns out that while the Leaf is a nice efficient vehicle, these numbers are way off. Stay tuned.
On the right, both climate change and questions about global limits on oil production have exited the realm of empirical debate and become full-blown fronts in the culture wars. You're required to mock them regardless of whether it makes any sense. And it's weird as hell. I mean, why would you disparage development of renewable energy? If humans are the ultimate creators, why not create innovative new sources of renewable energy instead of digging up every last fluid ounce of oil on the planet?
I am sure it is perfectly true that there are Conservatives who knee-jerk oppose every government renewable energy and recycling and green jobs idea that comes along without reference to the science. But you know what, there are plenty of Liberals who knee-jerk support all these same things, again without any understanding of the underlying science. Mr. Drum, for example, only recently came around to opposing corn ethanol, despite the fact that the weight of the science was against ethanol being any kind of environmental positive years and years ago. In fact, not until it was no longer cool and caring to support ethanol (a moment I would set at when Rolling Stone wrote a fabulous ethanol expose) did Drum finally turn against it. Is this science, or social signalling? How many folks still run around touting electric cars without understanding what the marginal fuels are in the electricity grid, or without understanding the true well-to-wheels efficiency? How many folks still run around touting wind power without understanding the huge percentage of this power that must be backed up with hot backup power fueled by fossil fuels?
Why is his almost blind support of renewable energy without any reference to science or the specifics of the technologies involved any saner than blind opposition? If anything, blind opposition at least has the numbers on their side, given past performance of investments in all sorts of wonder-solutions to future energy production.
The reason there is a disconnect is because statists like Drum equate supporting government subsidies and interventions with supporting renewables. Few people, even Conservatives, oppose renewables per se. This is a straw man. What they oppose are subsidies and government mandates for renewables. Drum says he has almost limitless confidence in man's ability to innovate. I agree -- but I, unlike he apparently, have limitless confidence in man's ability to innovate absent government coercion. It was not a government program that replaced whale oil as an illuminant right when we were approaching peak whale, it was the genius of John D. Rockefeller. As fossil fuels get short, prices rise, and people naturally innovate on substitutes. If Drum believes that private individuals are missing an opportunity, rather than root for government coercion, he should go take up the challenge. He can be the Rockefeller of renewable energy.
Postscript: By the way, it is absurd and disingenuous to equate opposition to what have been a series of boneheaded government investments in questionable ventures and technologies with some sort of a-scientific hatred of fossil fuel alternatives. I have written for a decade that I long for the day, and expect it to be here within 20 years, that sheets of solar cells are cranked from factories like carpet out of Dalton, Georgia.
The ultimate argument I get to my climate talk, when all other opposition fails, is that the precautionary principle should rule for CO2. By their interpretation, this means that we should do everything possible to abate CO2 even if the risk of catastrophe is minor since the magnitude of the potential catastrophe is so great.
The problem is that this presupposes there are no harms, or opportunity costs, on the other end of the scale. In fact, while CO2 may have only a small chance of catastrophe, Bill McKibben's desire to reduce fossil fuel use by 95% has a near certain probability of gutting the world economy and locking billions into poverty. Here is one illustration I just crafted for my new presentation. As usual, click to enlarge:
A large number of people seem to assume that our use of fossil fuels is an arbitrary choice among essentially comparable options (or worse, a sinister choice forced on us by the evil oil cabal). In fact, fossil fuels have a number of traits that make them uniquely irreplaceable, at least with current technologies. For example, gasoline has an absolutely enormous energy content per pound of fuel. Most vehicles - space shuttles, and more recently electric cars - must dedicate an enormous percentage of their power production just to moving the weight of their fuel. Not so in gasoline engine cars, something those who are working with electric cars must face every day.
By the way, if you want to see the kick-off of version 3.0 of my climate presentation, it will be at my son's school, Amherst College, this Thursday at 7PM. More here.
Update: By the way, I was careful in the chart to say the two " are correlated". I actually do not think one causes the other. In this case, I think there are a third, and fourth, and fifth (etc.) factors that cause both. For example, economic development leads to (and depends on) increased fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions, and it leads to longer lives.
Much has been written about 2nd and 3rd generation trustees leading charitable trusts in completely different directions from the intentions of their original founder / donor. These charitable trusts seem to, over time, become reflective of the goals and philosophy of a fairly closed caste of, lacking a better word, non-profit-runners. Their typically leftish, Eastern, urban outlook is sometimes bizarrely at odds with the trust's founding intentions and mission.
Here is one that caught my eye: Bill McKibben is known as a global warming crusader, via his 350.org (the 350 refers to the fact that they feel the world was safe at 349 ppm CO2 but was headed for ruin at 351 ppm). But if you hear him speak, as my son did at Amherst, he sounds more alike a crusader against fossil fuels rather than against just global warming per se. I am left with the distinct impression that he would be a passionate opponent of fossil fuel consumption even if there were no such thing as greenhouse gas warming.
Anyway, the thing I found interesting is that most of his anti-fossil fuel work is funded by a series of Rockefeller family trusts. I am not privy to the original founding mission of these trusts, but my suspicion is that funding a campaign to paint producers of fossil fuels as outright evil, as McKibben often does, is a pretty bizarre use of money for the Rockefeller family.
In contrast to McKibben, I have argued that John D. Rockefeller, beyond saving the whales, did as much for human well-being as any person in the last two centuries by driving down the cost and increasing the quality, safety, and availability of fuels. Right up there with folks like Norman Borlaug and Louis Pasteur.
Quick - in your last fill up, how much did you pay for gas? About how many gallons did you use?
If you are like most people, you can probably come pretty close to this. I paid somewhere just north of $4.00 for about 18 gallons.
OK, second set of questions: On your last electric bill, how much did you pay per KwH? How many KwH did it take to run your dishwasher last night?
Don't know? I don't think you are alone. I don't know the answers to the last questions. Part of the reason is that gas prices are posted on every corner, and we stare at a dial showing us fuel used every time we fill up. There is nothing comparable for electricity -- particularly for an electric car.
I understand some inherent appeals to electric cars. They are fun to drive, kind of quiet and stealthy like KIT from Knight Rider. They are really torquy and have nice acceleration. There is no transmission and gear changing. All cool and awesome reasons to buy an electric car.
However, my sense is that the main appeal of electric cars is that because we don't see the fuel price on the corner, and because we don't stare at a spinning dial as electrons are flowed into the car, we pretend it is not costing us anything to fill up. Out of sight is out of mind. Heck, even experienced car guys who should know better take this attitude. Popular Mechanics editor Jim Meigs wrote to Glenn Reynolds, re: the Volt:
Others might like the notion of going a month or two without filling the tank
This drives me crazy. Of COURSE you are filling the freaking tank. You are just filling the lead-acid (or lithium-ion) one with electrons rather than filling the hollow steel one with hydrocarbon molecules. The only difference is that you don't stand there watching the meter spin. But that should not mean that we pretend we are not filling the car and paying a cost to do so.
By the way, if you have read me before, you know I also have a problem with the EPA equivalent mileage standards for electric cars, which basically inflate the numbers by a factor of three by ignoring the second law of thermodynamics. This fraudulent mileage number, combined with the EPA's crazy-high new mileage standards, represents an implicit subsidy, almost a mandate, for electric cars that gets little attention. And that will have zero effect on energy usage because the numbers are gamed.
The Environmental Protection Agency has slapped a $6.8 million penalty on oil refiners for not blending cellulosic ethanol into gasoline, jet fuel and other products. These dastardly petroleum mongers are being so intransigent because cellulosic ethanol does not exist. It remains a fantasy fuel. The EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire Leprechauns.
As a screen shot of EPA’s renewable fuels website confirms, so far this year - just as in 2011 - the supply of cellulosic biofuel in gallons totals zero.
“EPA’s decision is arbitrary and capricious. We fail to understand how EPA can maintain a requirement to purchase a type of fuel that simply doesn’t exist,” stated Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the Washington-based trade association that represents the oil refining and petrochemicals industries.
I will remind Republicans thought that ethanol is a bipartisan turd, this particular requirement having been signed into law by President Bush.
Recent study on spotted owls, the protection of which was the ostensible reason for shutting down the northwest timber industry:
Whatever short-term drawbacks there may be from logging, thinning, or other fuel reduction activities in areas with high fire risk would be more than offset by improved forest health and fire-resistance characteristics, the scientists said, which allow more spotted owl habitat to survive in later decades.
Decades of fire suppression and a "hands-off" approach to management on many public lands have created overcrowded forests that bear little resemblance to their historic condition – at the expense of some species such as the northern spotted owl, researchers said.
The findings were published in Forest Ecology and Management, a professional journal, by researchers from Oregon State University and Michigan State University.
"For many years now, for species protection as well as other reasons, we've avoided almost all management on many public forest lands," said John Bailey, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management at Oregon State University.
"The problem is that fire doesn't respect the boundaries we create for wildlife protection," Bailey said. "Given the current condition of Pacific Northwest forests, the single biggest threat facing spotted owls and other species is probably stand-replacement wildfire."
Next, we will find out that spray cans are needed to save the ozone. hat tip
So, why do we have all these "dirty" coal plants? Market failure? Industry greed? Nope -- Carter-era government policy. For you younger folks, here is a law you may have never heard of:
The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.**
In other words, all new fossil fuel-powered boilers had to be coal-fired (which in a year or so, after Three Mile Island, translated to all new boilers since nuclear was essentially eliminated as an option). Yes, this may seem odd to us in an era of so much environmental concern over coal, but something coal opponents don't tell you is that many of the exact same left-liberal-government-top-down-energy-policy types that oppose coal today lobbied hard for the above law several decades ago. Here is a simplified timeline:
1. Government energy policy sets price controls that create artificial shortages of oil and gas
2. Government-created shortages of oil and gas lead to this law, with government demanding that all new fossil fuel-powered electric plants and boilers be coal powered.
3. Government mandates on coal use create environmental concerns, which lead to proposals for taxes and bans on coal power.
4. The need for government action against coal is obviated by a resurgence of oil and gas supply once government controls were removed. However, in response, government beings to consider strong controls on expansion in oil and gas production (e.g. fracking limits).
** I got involved with this because I worked in an oil refinery in the 1980's. We had to get special exemptions to run our new boilers on various petroleum products (basically byproducts and waste products of the refining process). Without these, the law would have required we bring in coal to run our oil refinery furnaces.
Why should we worry about 5c or 10c on a gallon of fuel down the local gas station when the US Navy (in all her glory) is willing to pay a staggering $26-a-gallon for 'green' synthetic biofuel(made we assume from the very same unicorn tears and leprechaun nipples that funded the ESM). AsReuters reports, the 'Great Green Fleet' will be the first carrier strike group powered largely by alternative fuels; as the Pentagon hopes it can prove the Navy looks just as impressive burning fuel squeezed from seeds, algae, and chicken fat (we did not make this up). The story gets better as it appears back in 2009, the Navy paid Solazyme (whose strategic advisors included TJ Gaulthier who served on Obama's White House Transition team) $8.5mm for 20,055 gallons on algae-based biofuel - a snip at just $424-a-gallon.
In its defense, the Navy Secretary said, ""Of course it costs more. It's a new technology. If we didn't pay a little bit more for new technologies, we'd still be using typewriters instead of computers." Of course, the switch from typewriters to computers proceeded without government mandates (or taxes, as they are called now) and in fact was led by the private sector -- the government trailed in this transition. Further, people paid the extra money for a computer because they found real value in it (document storage, easy editing, font flexibility). What real value is the Navy getting for the extra $22 a gallon? How much better will this task force perform? The answer, of course, is zero.