Category Archives: Energy Independence

Fact Checking Mr. Obama on Energy

I must confess I did not see Mr. Obama’s State of the Union Address.  I expected the speech to be a non event.   The next day I was surprised when the business news channels (CNBC and Bloomberg) discussed his energy policy that included a more favorable view of Natural Gas.  Natural Gas was finally getting it’s due.  That was a change.

I then read an article by Politico, and another in USA Today .  The Politico article talked about energy policy and the USA Today article discussed the statistical gymnastics included in the speech.  I then read the entire speech transcript.

I was not impressed.  I’m a numbers guy.  Too few numbers and too many human interest stories.  I like a good human interest story as much as the next guy, they make great movies.  I wonder why a speech on the status of the USA today needs to be so personal. And as USA Today pointed out, the numbers have been selectively chosen.

Mr. Obama did advocate Natural Gas as a preferred fuel in both electricity production and as a motor fuel.   He’s about 5 years late to the party, but better late than never; a welcome change.   The remainder of the speech was not surprising.

The piece on solar was….well… you decide:

we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be outsourced

OK, I guess?   Becoming?  The USA is not now and never has been a leader in solar.  Germany is the world leader, and China is coming on fast and will likely pass Germany in 2015.  Germany has 35 gigawatts of solar installed right now.  China has over 20 gigawatts now and an additional 14 gigawatts should begin production in 2014.  Italy is third with about 18 gigawatts connected.

The USA, Spain and Japan duke it out for the remaining positions in the top 5.  The USA is currently in the 4th spot with a little bit less than 8 gigawatts connected.  We are adding solar fast enough to maintain our #4 spot on the list, but we will not catch Italy this decade.

Solar, even in Germany plays only a very small part in the carbon emissions game.  Germany gets less than 6% of it’s electricity from Solar power!    Statistically, solar will be a non issue on the global carbon front for years and years to come.  Mr. Obama’s emphasis on solar when talking global climate change is….well….misplaced.

A bit further in the speech he says the following:

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.

True.  We have done better.   The recession reduced demand, vehicles became more efficient and natural gas displaced coal in power generation.  But it’s old news.  2013 reversed the trend as this graph prepared by the US Energy Information Administration demonstrates:

https://i0.wp.com/205.254.135.7/environment/images/2013_emissions.png

Yep, the EIA is expecting an increase in carbon related emissions in 2013 and 2014.  Perhaps that is why Mr. Obama said the following:

But we have to act with more urgency — because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.

Maybe, maybe not.   Recent studies indicate that long periods of very low rainfall are normal in California.  Twice during the medieval warming period, California had droughts that literally lasted hundreds of years.  And the same study showed periods of spectacular flooding in between the years of droughts.

Perhaps California is witness to normal climate variation.  Recent studies indicate that the last 150 years might be the oddity, not the norm?   20 year droughts in Southern California appear to be relatively regular and surprisingly common.   Maybe what we see in California today is simply Nature being Nature.

I wonder what would happen if a politician simply told the truth?   Unemployment, I suspect.  But come on, Mr. Obama, your last election is behind you.  Suppose, just suppose, that we heard the honest truth about global climate change.   It would look something like this.

The world is warmer than it used to be and it is likely that man is at least partially responsible.   So far, climate change has not been particularly problematic.  If the scientists at the UN are correct, then we must make immediate changes in the ways we use and produce energy or the world will get lots warmer. That warming will probably have dire consequences.

The biggest carbon dioxide producer in the world is China.  In the year 2000, China was a small player.  Today, China produces more carbon dioxide than the USA and all of Western Europe combined.  If China does not slow down their ever increasing rate of carbon dioxide production, and if the UN’s IPCC Scientists are correct, the world is going to get lots warmer.

Actions taken in the USA or in Europe will be of little consequence.  China’s impact is so large it overwhelms everything else.  China’s rate of increase has been greater than 8% per year since 2000.   At that rate they will double their production again between now and 2023.  They are already 30% of the worldwide total.

So far at least, the UN has been horribly wrong in their predictions.   Climate variability is difficult to predict.    The simple fact that the IPCC has been wildly high in their predictions does not prove that they are wrong, it simply accentuates how difficult the problem is.   Yes, global warming stopped some 15 years ago, but it could begin again soon.  We must continue to study the issue with an open mind, and work to minimize our impact on the climate.

Nahhh…to0 boring….it would never work in politics.

Nuclear Power is Necessary if IPCC is right

Shortly after Al Gore’s film was released, I had a discussion with my brother.  We were talking global climate change.    It was not our typical agree to disagree discussion.   I was presumed to be wrong, horribly wrong.   Global disaster was coming and coming soon.   And then I asked him the difficult question.

Where do you stand on Nuclear Power?

He could not, or more accurately, would not answer the question.  Therein lies the problem.   Increased Nuclear Power is absolutely necessary if the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is correct in their recently leaked gloomy predictions of world climate.   There is no solution that will work right now that does not include increased use of Nuclear Power.

Germany has been leading the charge into a renewable world.   Let’s try to learn something from their experience.

Germany has embraced solar and wind with some interesting consequences.  Despite it’s northern location, Germany is the largest solar power market in the world.  And it has a significant amount of wind power too.  Today, Germany has 35 gigawatts of installed solar and 32 gigawatts of installed wind.   On any given day they need about 70 gigawatts of power.  Sounds promising.

Germany gets less power from wind and solar than you might expect.  I know I was surprised.  Solar produces about 5.3% of the total, wind a bit over 8%.  Wow.

Wind and Solar both  are becoming more affordable.   Unfortunately the stuff is notoriously and predictably unreliable.  Germany provides detailed data on their production.  It’s chock full of interesting graphs.  Some weeks like week 2 make wind and solar look really bad:

http://i0.wp.com/cleantechnica.com/files/2014/01/germany-electricity-prices-winter.png?fit=570%2C1200

Very little wind (green) or solar (gold) on the chart and lots of conventional fuel (grey).  But a week earlier there was lots of wind and the renewable picture looked more promising:

http://oneinabillionblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/german-electricity-data-for-week-1-2013.png

Germany has a system that takes the renewable energy when it’s available.  It’s base load plants (mostly coal and nuclear) cannot be easily started and stopped.  The result is surplus power that is exported (bright green) to other countries in Europe.  On December 31, 2012 something a bit odd happened.  Lots of wind on a day when not much power was needed.   German utilities had to pay people in other countries to take their excess power!  Notice how the price of energy in the wholesale market (blue)  fluctuates.

As the sun approaches equinox, the solar picture begins to improve and the energy picture looks a bit different:

http://i2.wp.com/cleantechnica.com/files/2014/01/electricity-prices-solar.png

March 17, 2013 had a few hours during the day where half the power being generated was from renewable energy.  Once again, as the wind came up, wholesale prices for power went down.  The utility pays a fixed rate for the power and must take it under Germany’s system. German utilities are going broke.

Lots of wind on Saturday, none on Wednesday.  Throw in a bit of cloudy weather and nearly no power is generated by renewable energy (Wednesday March 13).

The utility has to provide  power all day every day.   And the only way that can be done without carbon dioxide emissions is with Nuclear Energy.  Every northern climate in the world faces the same problem.  German utilities must provide service when neither wind nor solar is available which happens to be most of the time.  They in effect must build 100% redundant power systems.

Germany is walking away from Nuclear power.  They are closing old plants and not replacing them.   The 2011 disaster in Japan has them running scared.  They fear Nuclear Power more than they fear global climate change.   Germany talks tough on climate change, but do they really believe?

Do you?

Nuclear Power — One Fine Politial Mess

Nuclear Power politics has long fascinated me.   Whenever I meet a global warming gloom and doom  believer, I ask them if they support Nuclear Power.  Invariably they either oppose the issue or are confused by the question.  I have yet to meet one that interconnects the two issues.   This puzzles me.

Nowhere is this more puzzling than in Europe.  Britain has just decided to build two new Nuclear power plants.   The first new plant built since the Fukashima disaster of 2011.  It’s big news and the Chinese are big backers.   People all over the EU are up in arms.

Europeans are trying very hard to reduce man caused carbon dioxide in their lives.  And they are trying to avoid the political third rail that  is Nuclear Power.  Germany has walked away from Nuclear Power, France has pledged to cut production by 40% and Italy has delayed new Nuclear plants.

Japan has pledged to be Nuclear free.   China is building 20 new Nuclear plants.

Suppose, just suppose, that the global warming fear mongers are right.  If they are right, we must seriously change the way we make electricity.  Invariably the green community solution is renewable energy.   For most of the world that means wind or solar.   Hydro and geothermal can work when the environment is right, but most places where people live have neither.

The electrical utility business is an on demand business.   At any given time there must be enough power generation to meet that demand.   Demand varies throughout the day as this chart of New England demand prepared by the EIA demonstrates:

graph of electric load curve: New England, 10/22/2010, electric power demand (gigawatts), as described in the article text

Electrical energy demand peaks at about sunset in October.  Solar works best in the middle of the day.  Wind usually decreases as the Sun sets.   At 7 in the evening, the reality of the power utility business runs directly into the fantasy world of clean energy.   Clean energy become less available when it is needed most.   What are  we to do?

How do we, as a society, meet the evening peak?

No fair counting on technology that does not yet exist.   When a new way of storing electricity is developed, then we can plan on an electrical utility world that is not demand based.  Until then the power that is needed at 7:00 PM on a Monday night must be produced at 7:00 PM on that same Monday night.

Society has but three rational options.

  • Coal fired plants
  • Natural Gas fired plants
  • Nuclear energy fired plants

There are no other choices that will work ….right now.   Thus my confusion.  Only one of these options works well in a carbon doom and gloom society…Nuclear Energy.   So how is France going to reduce Nuclear Power use by 40% without impacting their carbon footprint?   And Japan?   And Germany?

The Chinese solution to the problem is Nuclear power plants….and the British have figured this one out too.  I wonder when the powers that be in the EU will decide.

So far, European politicians appear to be trying to have it both ways.  Clean energy and no Nuclear power.   What magical power source is widely available, carbon free and not Nuclear?  I don’t know of one.   If the IPCC is right, we have no choice.  We must produce less carbon dioxide.

Nuclear Power and carbon dioxide production are linked.  People all over the world appear to be pretending not to make a choice.  But that non choice is a choice.   Either people really don’t believe the IPCC rhetoric or they like living in a fantasy world.  And this puzzles me and has puzzled me for a really long time.

Each of us really does have to choose. Which is worse for the world, carbon dioxide or Nuclear power plants?

The new Obama Keystone Pipeline miscalculation

First an admission –  I voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, but I voted from Mr. Romney in 2012.   It was a tough call, but I took the economy over social issues and went with the guy that, in my estimation, better understood the business that is the US economy.  Unfortunately Mr. Obama has proven to be as I expected.

The economy has improved since the election because housing and energy and autos are booming.   Housing and autos were going to boom no matter who was in charge, but the resurgence in US oil production has been in spite of Mr. Obama (even though he likes to take credit for it).    Case in point, linking the Keystone Pipeline to a global climate initiative.

Mr. Obama and his friends don’t like fossil fuels, so anything that aids in the production of them is necessarily an environmental problem.  So we get statements like:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest

and also:

And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward

The Obama administration is hiding behind the notion that a single pipeline project can have a significant impact on global climate.   And other administration officials are interpreting that to mean any increase in carbon dioxide is significant.  Both positions are surprisingly stupid and more than a little bit naive.   An Ostrich with his head buried in the sand immediately comes to mind.

Let’s start with an assumption, the Canadians are going to produce the oil and it is going to get to a market somewhere.   The US State department has said as much in their review of the project.  And now the EPA is suing the State Department, saying they violated EPA law…go USA.

If there is no Keystone pipeline, the oil may cost a small amount more to transport and will need a higher clearing price to be profitable but it will be produced.

Since the oil is going to be produced, the trick is to find the most efficient way to get it to market.   There is only one answer…a pipeline.  Pipelines are the most efficient way to move oil.  Sure rail works too, but it is less efficient.  The Canadians have two choices, the Keystone project or a pipeline (or rail) to British Columbia and marine transport to Asia.   Which is better for the environment?  Remember the Exxon Valdez before answering!

Duuuuh.

Doing nothing is not a choice.  But let’s suppose the Canadians chose not to produce the oil.  We would have to get our oil from someplace else….like Venezuela or Russia or perhaps Saudi Arabia.  All have environmental and political costs associated with their production and transportation to market.

All the alternate feasible energy options will have some environmental risk and could have much greater political risk than the Keystone Pipeline. For my money, oil from Canada trumps oil form anywhere on the other side of the Atlantic.  When I think of Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia, I have no difficulty coming up with a positive public interest finding for Keystone.

Pipelines do scar the land during construction, but that damage is temporary and easily mitigated.  There is some risk of a spill, but the risk is relatively low and the cleanup (particularly when on land) is relatively easy to mitigate.  Environmentally, pipelines are generally a good choice, particularly when comparing them to the alternatives.

Come on guys….

And now for the really stupid part….the implication that any single relatively small project can have significant worldwide climate implications or the notion that any amount of  additional carbon in the environment is mathematically significant.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in global climate change as predicted by the UN or not, the math makes no sense.   Any single project is just too small to matter.

The notion that there is a clear national interest in denying the project….well that’s just extra special stupid.  Allow me to explain.  Three charts should do the job, and here they are.  The first is total green house gas emission in the USA by sector:

Most of the Industry section (20% of the total) is end use energy  consumption.  Either heating or process fuels.  All the pipelines in the USA are but teeny tiny part of the Industry section. The best ways to reduce carbon dioxide in the USA are to reduce transportation fuel (better gas mileage vehicles) and to use less coal in power generation.

There are lots of pipelines.

How can one pipeline really matter?

Carbon production is a world wide story.  Thinking regionally doesn’t work when counting carbon.   In 2005 the USA produced more man caused carbon dioxide than any other country.  In 2006 China passed us…and by 2011 they produced 50%  more than the USA.   China now (2013) produces more carbon dioxide that the USA and the EU combined.

Any solution that reduces world wide carbon production must include China.

The natural cycle creates about 97% of all carbon produced at any given time.  The 3% man produces is probably changing the balance as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has steadily risen by 1.5 to 2 ppm since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  Earlier this year it topped 400 ppm for the first time in over a million years.

China is increasing their carbon production by about 8% per year.  That 8% is a huge number.  It overwhelms every other number in any carbon dioxide calculation.

In summary

  • All pipelines collectively are but a tiny piece of the 20% Industry component of the US carbon footprint.
  • The USA represents about 16% (in 2013) of the world wide total.
  • China is growing their carbon footprint at 8% per year and is about 29% of the total.  Each year China increases the worldwide total by about 2%.
  • There are literally millions of miles of pipelines in North
    America

It is impossible statistically for one 2000 mile pipeline to become significant mathematically?   The impact is going to be so small as to be unmeasurable.   And China goes and goes and goes.   If China doesn’t change their ways what we in the USA do doesn’t really matter.

And if the Keystone pipeline is not built…the oil will go to China where it will be consumed in plants that pollute the air and raise the carbon levels more than if the pipeline had been constructed.

Environmental Dreamers on Pennsylvania Avenue

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the Obama Administration Energy and/or Environmental Policies.  I am particularly puzzled by their reluctance to embrace natural gas.  Today I think I finally figured out what is going on…and admittedly I’m a slow study….but I think I’ve got it.   The bureaucrats that advise the President are environmental dreamers.

Dreamers live in the world they would like to have, the rest of us are stuck in the real world.   In the dreamers world…we have lots of renewable energy… and we have a way to store the energy.   Storage that is both economical and efficient would be nice.  Too bad it doesn’t exist.

When it does exist, all sorts of wonderful things become possible.  But until then, there is one truth that cannot be denied, utilities cannot use renewable energy to meet their demand requirements because it is not reliable (except for hydro, which works because it has storage in the form of water behind the dam).  The average solar panel works about 5 hours a day, the average windmill 7 or 8.  What is a utility to do the rest of the time?

Power utilities must choose between three available choices, coal, natural gas and  nuclear.  There are no other currently available choices.   Of those, one is a clear loser… with current technology…coal.  And the Obama administration has figured that out.  There are two choices left….and the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue refuse to make a choice.

I like both choices, but since I live in the real world I know that Nuclear is not a political reality.   This leaves natural gas.  This is not a difficult choice.   Support widespread use of natural gas.  Sure it’s a fossil fuel, but it’s the good one.  It burns relatively cleanly.  Sure natural gas produces some carbon dioxide, but it produces about half as much as oil or coal and is clean burning (no cancer causing air pollutants).  And it’s cheap.

Therein lies the problem….a cheap clean burning fuel reduces the need for renewable energy.   And according to the dreamers at the White House, that is not a good thing.   Renewable energy good…fossil fuels bad….in the fantasy world surrounding the White House.    When a cheap battery becomes available, the economics of solar power and wind turbines will dramatically improve…..but while we wait…..let’s produce lots of natural gas.

Free Electricity in Hawaii

I’ve spent the last few blogs trashing electric vehicles in Hawaii.   I’ve been too harsh.  I now think I’d consider an electric vehicle if I lived in Honolulu.

What prompted this change of heart?  A trip to Panda Express in Kapolei.  Yep, Panda Express.  There it was, mounted on the sidewalk, near the front door,  where the handicap parking usually resides,  my mind changer…..a  free electric car charging station.

Call me stupid…. it hadn’t occurred to me when I was doing the math on electric car costs that the state would give electricity away.  They are here, there, everywhere.  Free electricity dispensers.  Hawaii is giving away energy ….and who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Yes, you heard right, the state with the highest electric rates in the country is giving the stuff away as a way to encourage electric car use.  Both the feds and Hawaii pay you to buy an electric car, and Hawaii pays your fuel costs too.   Wow.

I could park my car there at Panda express on my way home from work, wander around the area getting exercise, maybe pick up some grinds….and eventually go home after scoring a few dollars worth of free fuel.  Suppose I worked at Schwab (or somewhere else that provides free energy) in downtown Honolulu, I could score free energy all day while I was at work.  If I played it just right I’d never pay for fuel again.

Yeah, I know it’s stupid to give away energy especially in a state that uses oil to make electricity….but Governments do stupid things all the time, so I might as well cash in.

Suppose, just suppose, I’d combined my electric car with a huge solar project at my home (last year before the 35% solar credit ran out).   People who can afford the first costs (it’s still expensive with a $10,000 subsidy) did just that.  The installation makes much more electricity than the house can use….and the excess is sent onto the electric grid.   The Solar customer then uses utility power in the evening and gets credit for the surplus provided earlier in the day.

The Utility is on the hook.  Hawaiian Electric gets power when it doesn’t need it and gets to give it back when it’s difficult for the utility to provide the power.  Who pays for the excess deliver-ability….everybody else.  And if this electric car thing takes off, peaking load will get worse as people plug their cars in when they get home from work, during the evening peak.

Hawaii politics in action…and the Electric Utility is right in there promoting the projects.   All the while the peak gets harder to meet and there are no new peaking plants being constructed, on a island….can you say blackout.

Hawaiian Electric Car Fuel Numbers Are Awful

Hawaii is one of my favorite places.   I love the local customs, the racially diverse society, the local food, and the weather is the best in the world.  Sometimes, though, the local politics drives me a bit crazy.

Hawaii is gaga over electric vehicles.  They have something called The Honolulu Clean Cities Coalition (HCC),  a non profit organization dedicated to reducing petroleum use in the transportation sector in Hawaii by advocating electric cars.  Oh, yes….it’s funded by the feds.

Here’s the problem.  Electric cars in Hawaii run on oil.  This makes them both expensive to purchase and expensive to operate.  And they have those nasty difficult to dispose of batteries.  Hawaii gets most of its electricity by burning oil.  Electric cars are only clean and environmentally friendly if their electrical source is clean and environmentally preferred.  The state is spending millions in federal, state and local subsidies to burn oil to make electricity to put into an auto…when they could skip the middle man and simply buy a gasoline vehicle.

There are federal and local subsidies here, there, and everywhere.  Without the subsidies, Hawaii would not have the program they have….and the citizens of the state would be better off.  They would have lower taxes and a cleaner environment.

Most electricity in Honolulu is produced by either oil or coal.  Even the natural gas used in the state is a manufactured process that starts out as oil.  There is a small amount of wind, a still under construction bio-fuels plant, and a rapidly growing Solar power generation program complete with Federal and State subsidies.

2012 was a banner year for Solar power in Honolulu.  The state subsidy (35%) went away on December 31, 2012 and people rushed to cash in.   The state revenue commissioner is not pleased.  He’s having trouble finding funds to offset the loss in tax revenue that Hawaii’s 35% credit caused.

Hawaiian Electric has special rates for electric vehicles.   If you pay $1.50 a month, you can get a sophisticated meter that allows you to pay rates based upon time of day.  The rates  encourage people to charge their cars at night which causes more oil to be burned because the main green alternative, Solar, is not available.

Honolulu’s typical rate is right around $.40 cents per kilowatt hour.   You could be paying as little as $.34 or as much as $.45.  The National average is a bit less than $.12.  The rate applies to all electricity used in the house, so it is really important not to use much juice in the evening.  The rate is a few cents higher on the other islands.

Let’s start by being optimistic…we’ll use 35 cents per kilowatt hour as a base price.  Next we add 20% or 7 cents per kilowatt hour to cover the losses in the charging and battery system.   In my last post I calculated a cost of 7.2 cents for the 220 V charging system, but I think I was a bit high, so we’ll just add 5 cents here.  That makes the cost of electricity in the vehicle 47 cents per kilowatt hour.

Now we must make an assumption on the cost of gasoline.   Yesterday I bought gasoline at a Costco in Honolulu for $3.999 per gallon.  If we pay 47 cents per kilowatt hour, how many miles would we have to go to spend $4.00 on fuel?

The EPA says the Leaf will go 2.94 miles per kilowatt.  At 47 cents per kilowatt that equals 47/2.94 or  15.99 cents per mile or 4.0/.1599 or 25 miles per gallon equivalent.

If I happen to fill up at a peak time I use 45*1.2+5 or 59 cents per kilowatt hour.   That math looks like this  59/2.94 or 20.06 cents per mile or 4/.201 or 19.9 miles per gallon equivalent.  Most economy cars on the road in Hawaii do better than that.  The Nissan Altima I am driving is averaging a about 2o.5 miles per gallon.

When an electric car uses oil based electricity it pollutes more than a modern efficient gasoline vehicle.  Hawaii would be better off dumping the entire Electric car program.  Gasoline cars are cheaper, cleaner burning and they don’t have those nasty Lithium Ion Battery packs.

The EPA and Hawaiian Electric try to make Electric cars sound like a good deal…and the locals here have installed over 200 electric charging stations…buying into the program.  The EPA could be right in a place with very low electricity prices, but there’s no way this statement by Hawaiian Electric is true

Switching to electric vehicles will use substantially less oil at lower cost to reach the same level of mobility, even if oil is used in the production of electricity.

Come on guys, tell the truth…we can take it.