Quotulatiousness

November 18, 2017

The two biggest problems holding back widespread adoption of electric cars

Filed under: Economics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer explains why the current crop of electric vehicles are still only niche players, despite lots of overblown media hype and over-generous government subsidies:

There are two problems with electric vehicles. Neither are unsolvable in the long-term, but neither are probably going to get solved in the next 5 years.

  1. Energy Density. 15 gallons of gasoline weighs 90 pounds and takes up 2 cubic feet. This will carry a 40 mpg car 600 miles. The Tesla Model S 85kwh battery pack weighs 1200 pounds and will carry the car 265 miles (from this article the cells themselves occupy about 4 cubic feet if packed perfectly but in this video the whole pack looks much larger). We can see that even with what Musk claims is twice the energy density of other batteries, the Tesla gets 0.22 miles per pound of fuel/battery while the regular car can get 6.7. That is a difference in energy density of 30x. Some of this is compensated for by heavy and bulky things the electric car does not need (e.g. coolant system) but it is still a major problem in car design.
  2. Charge Time. In my mind this is perhaps the single barrier that could, if solved, make electric cars ubiquitous. people complain about electric car range, but really EV range is not that much shorter than the range of traditional cars on a tank of gas. The problem is that it is MUCH faster to refill a tank of gas than it is to refill a battery with a full charge. Traditionally it takes all night to charge an electric car, but 2 minutes at the pump to “charge” a gasoline engine. The fastest current charging claim is Tesla’s, which claims that the supercharger sites they have built on many US interstate routes sites will charge 170 miles of range in 30 minutes, or 5.7 miles per minute. A traditional car (the same one used in point 1) can add 600 miles of range in 2 minutes, or 300 miles per minute, or 52 times faster than the electric car. This is the real reason EV range is an issue for folks.

October 20, 2017

Why the Lights Are Still Off in Puerto Rico

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 19 Oct 2017

The government set the stage for a post-hurricane catastrophe.
—–
Puerto Rico was set up for disaster well before Hurricane Maria hit. Revoked tax breaks, needlessly expensive imports, and crippling debt all led to a shoddy infrastructure that’s still without power on most of the island.

On the latest “Mostly Weekly,” Andrew Heaton explores: how did Puerto Rico get screwed over well before the lights went out, and how do we get them back on?

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.
Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton, Brian Sack, and Justin Monticello
Edited by Sarah Rose Siskind and Austin Bragg
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

October 8, 2017

Despite the rhetoric, Trump can’t just “wave goodbye” to Puerto Rico’s debt

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the financial plight that Puerto Rico was facing even before the hurricane season began:

… the fact remains that Puerto Rico is not going to be able to pay all of its debts. Prior to the hurricane, the territory had $73 billion in outstanding debt, and a population of 3.4 million people. That’s approximately $21,500 for every man, woman and child on the island – just about enough to buy each of them a brand new Mini Cooper, provided that they don’t insist on the sport package or the heated seats.

Puerto Rico couldn’t afford to buy 3.4 million Mini Coopers before; they certainly can’t now that Maria has washed out so many roads. Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico’s GDP was around $100 billion, meaning that repaying its debt would consume nearly nine months of everything the island earned. And while there will probably be a brief bump in economic activity as disaster relief funds pour in and the destruction is cleared away, over the long term the hurricane represents a huge setback: businesses destroyed, people killed or injured, funds that could be generating economic growth instead diverted to simply replacing what has been lost.

So whatever President Trump does, or does not do, investors in Puerto Rican bonds are going to have to take a substantial haircut. The problem is, we’re not going to wipe out the debt entirely. And even if we could, it wouldn’t be enough to get Puerto Rico back to economic or fiscal health.

“If it’s that bad,” you may be thinking, “surely we ought to simply wipe out the debt holders? After all, they’re investment professionals. They can afford to take the loss; ordinary Puerto Ricans can’t.” The problem is that most of the folks holding Puerto Rico’s debt aren’t vulture hedge funds sitting on wads of ill-gotten gains; the overwhelming majority of the debt is held by ordinary folks who buy bonds or bond funds. Like, say, your parents. Or maybe you. And also, a lot of Puerto Ricans, who would be hit very hard if the value of their investments were wiped out.

How did Puerto Rico get so deeply into debt? Step forward the federal and Puerto Rican governments to take a bow:

The operations of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, for example, defy belief: It essentially gave unlimited free power to municipalities and government-owned entities, which used it to do things like operate skating rinks in the tropics. Everywhere you look, you see signs of a government struggling to perform basic tasks: collect taxes, maintain the infrastructure, improve the health system. In the jargon of development economists, the island lacks “state capacity”: It is simply unable to exert the amount of power over its operations that we on the mainland mostly take for granted.

But you can’t entirely blame the Puerto Rican government for the state of the underlying economy, which is what had plunged the island into a bankruptcy crisis even before the hurricane. For that you have to look to the federal government, which eliminated a tax break that had given companies incentives to locate in Puerto Rico, and then oversaw a financial crisis that sent them into an even deeper spiral. We also made sure that a relatively poor island was forced to adopt the federal minimum wage, which was too high for the local labor market. That has contributed to the 11.5 percent unemployment rate. And Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar, leaving it unable to adjust monetary policy to overcome economic stagnation.

Electricity – Wright Brothers – Hip Firing MGs I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 7 Oct 2017

Chair of Wisdom Time! This week we talk about the advancements of electricity during the war, the Wright brothers patent wars and hip/shoulder firing MGs. Oh and Italian Spiderman.

August 31, 2017

“Harvey is not Katrina”

Nicole Gelinas on the crucial differences between the situation faced by New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and that currently faced by Houston after being inundated by Hurricane Harvey:

The Houston region has received record rain, more falling in less than a week than it usually does in a year, and at least 30 people, including a Houston police officer, have died. Harvey, however, is not Katrina. One measure of this difference is in electricity provision. After Katrina, New Orleans was almost entirely without power for weeks. In Houston, by contrast, 94 percent of customers still had power as of early Wednesday.

Though we won’t know for sure for a while, the fact that Houston has kept the power on is likely in part a legacy of infrastructure investment after previous storms. Five years ago, Hurricane Ike actually cut power to 95 percent of Houston. But, as NPR reported after the storm, the city’s power company, CenterPoint, took steps after Ike, as well as after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, to upgrade the grid, spending $400 million. Houston, helped by $50 million in federal money, cut down tens of thousands of trees along power lines and outfitted poles with the ability to re-route electricity away from damaged routes toward undamaged ones.

With power, hospitals can continue to operate; even Ben Taub Hospital, surrounded by water, kept the power on. Stores, too, have quickly begun to reopen. Power also means that people whose homes didn’t flood can stay put, lessening the burden on police to keep neighborhoods safe from looters. If the power stays on — as it should, now that worst of the storm is over — Houston should do well. If it goes out, the city will have far more serious problems.

[…]

Empty neighborhoods and business districts invite looting. Houston had already arrested 15 people as of late Tuesday for allegedly trying to steal everything from liquor to an ATM, and for attempted robbery, as well. These arrests, plus a nighttime curfew, are a good sign; after Katrina, New Orleans police officers failed to keep control over the city, both because of the severity of the damage, which left most of the city empty and dark, but also due to their longstanding poor performance. Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg and Houston police chief Art Acevado have already set the right tone to deter wrongdoing. Ogg said Tuesday that thieves “are going to feel the full weight of the law,” and Acevedo said he would push for tough sentences for people convicted. In New Orleans, by contrast, state and local officials’ apocalyptic invocation of “martial law,” rather than calm reliance on the rule of normal law, only exacerbated the sense of chaos.

With some, though not most, Houston neighborhoods now deserted, state law enforcement have a role to play here, as well, with federal support. A competent local police force will be busy, after a storm, in helping still-populated areas. In turn, state police and the National Guard, who have less experience interacting with people on a neighborhood level, can help by patrolling and securing empty areas. To that end, Texas has already activated the National Guard, adding 12,000 people to safety efforts, as well as for rescue and food distribution.

Oh, and as Caroline Baum points out, don’t be misled by idiotic claims that hurricane damage is somehow good for the economy:

You will no doubt hear assertions that the rebuilding effort will provide a boost to contractors, manufacturers and GDP in general. But before these claims turn into predictable nonsense about all the good that comes from natural disasters, I thought it might be useful to provide some context for these sorts of events.

The destruction wrought by a hurricane and flooding qualifies as a negative supply shock. Normal production and distribution channels are destroyed or disrupted. Producers have to find less-efficient (i.e. more expensive) ways to transport their goods. The net effect is lost output and income, and higher prices.

Over the years, I’ve observed a tendency among economists and traders to view such events through a demand-side prism. They see lost income translating into reduced spending on goods and services, which might even warrant some largesse from the central bank.

Of course, that is precisely the wrong medicine. Supply shocks reduce output and raise prices. The Federal Reserve’s interest-rate medicine affects demand. Lower interest rates will increase the demand for gasoline, among other goods and services, but they have no effect on supply. An easing of monetary policy under such circumstances would increase demand for already curtailed supply, raising prices even more.

But wait. What about all the new construction and investment necessitated by the devastation? Homeowners will have to rebuild. Businesses will have to replace destroyed or damaged plants and equipment. Pretty soon, we should start to hear about a boost to GDP growth.

In the short run, yes. But focus on the prefix, “re,” as in re-building and re-placing. After a natural disaster, housing starts are bound to increase, but there will be no net addition to the supply of homes. Capital spending will increase as well, but it will not expand the nation’s capital stock.

She also provides a link to this very topical essay by Frédéric Bastiat: That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen. In short, we see the spending caused by the need to repair damages (in this case from the flooding), but we don’t see what might have been done if the money hadn’t needed to be spent just to replace existing stock.

August 19, 2017

Pricing electricity generated by wind versus more traditional sources

Filed under: Australia, Cancon, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Australia’s Catellaxy Files responds to a series of misleading pro-wind statements by pointing to the appropriate method of calculating electricity costs:

The first thing to understand – which The Conversation does not – is that electricity is not like pairs of shoes that can be sold at the same price tomorrow as today. The product consumers demand is not a quantity of megawatt hours but the continuous supply of electricity – its permanent availability to them in whatever quantity they require. This necessity for continuous supply places a premium on “despatchable” power from fossil-fuel, nuclear or hydro plants. This type of power is more valuable than power that cannot be controlled (wind, solar), and much more valuable than power that cannot even be predicted (especially wind). Moreover, power that is rapidly despatchable (hydro, some gas turbines) in response to sudden surges in demand or unexpected failures at other plants is more valuable still for its ability to plug gaps at short notice.

These differences in the value of different types of electricity already render The Conversation’s comparison of coal and wind power per megawatt hour useless. And rectifying its analysis is not, as pretended, just a matter of adding in “balancing costs” such as additional rapidly despatchable sources, extra storage capacity, or upgraded transmission equipment. For the insertion of a low-quality, unreliable source into the grid also reduces the efficiency and increases the cost of baseload power from coal or other sources which need to operate continuously to be efficient.

This leads to a second major unappreciated fact, which is that suppliers do not make economic decisions based on costs. Instead they make decisions based on the estimated difference between costs and revenue. If wind power can underbid baseload coal whenever the wind is blowing, existing coal stations won’t start up, and new ones won’t be built, because they cannot operate efficiently being turned on and off all the time, and therefore cannot generate enough revenue to justify operation or construction as the case may be. This in turn leads to a higher and higher percentage of unreliable power in the mix, with eventual blackouts.

The only way of assessing the true cost of wind and solar is to look at the overall electricity price before and after renewables are added to the mix. Once you do that you find overwhelming evidence from all over the world that markets with even modest shares of power from intermittent renewables have considerably higher prices than those without. That this is not a coincidence is confirmed by both the tightness of the correlation, and the equally impressive correlations over time within the same market – as the share of renewables increases, the price of electricity goes up, and it goes up very sharply with even 20-30% of nameplate capacity, or 5-10% of energy output, sourced from wind.

Although the discussion is about Australia’s wind power experiment, the details are also relevant to Ontario, as a recent study pointed out:

Electricity prices in Ontario have increased dramatically since 2008 based on a variety of comparative measures. Ontario’s electricity prices have risen by 71 percent from 2008 to 2016, far outpacing electricity price growth in other provinces, income, and inflation. During this period, the average growth in electricity prices across Canada was 34 percent.

Ontario’s electricity price change between 2015 and 2016 alone is also substantial: the province experienced a 15 percent increase in one year. This was two-and-a-half times greater than the national average of 6 percent during the same period.

From 2008 to 2015, electricity prices also increased two-and-a-half times faster than household disposable income in Ontario. In particular, the growth in electricity prices was almost four times greater than inflation and over four-and-a-half times the growth of Ontario’s economy (real GDP).

The large electricity price increases in Ontario have also translated to significant increases in monthly residential electricity bills. Between 2010 and 2016, monthly electricity bills (including tax) in major Canadian cities increased by an average of $37.68. During the same period, electricity bills in Toronto and Ottawa increased by $77.09 and $66.96, respectively. This means that residents in Toronto experienced electricity price increases of double the national average between 2010 and 2016.

In Toronto and Ottawa, the average monthly bills for residential consumers including taxes in 2016 were $201 and $183, respectively.

Much of the reason for Ontario’s much-higher-than-average electricity costs are the provincial government’s dodgy crony capitalist methods for increasing alternative energy sources in the power mix:

The problem of skyrocketing electricity prices and high bills is a made-in-Ontario problem directly tied to the provincial government’s policy choices. Ontario’s policies around renewable energy (wind, solar, and biomass) have resulted in large additional costs for consumers. More specifically, Ontario’s high electricity prices can be attributed to poorly structured long term contracts, the phase-out of coal energy, and a growing electricity supply and demand imbalance in the province that is resulting in Ontario exporting electricity at a loss.

August 8, 2017

QotD: The next “Carrington Event”

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science, Space — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The last one happened in 1859. The Earth was hit by a cloud of magnetized plasma from a “coronal mass ejection” — something that our Sun often does. Most fly off in other directions; the last that barely missed us was in July, 2012. (You can tell it missed from the fact that the Internet still exists.) The last bullseye on our beloved planet was named after the brilliant English amateur astronomer, Richard Carrington (1826–75), who, in the course of figuring out what happened, demonstrated the existence of “solar flares.”

He was trying to explain why telegraph operators all over the world, on the 1st of September, 1859, were suddenly getting electric shocks; and then, prior to the whole cable system going down, why some had been able to send and receive messages even after disconnecting their power. Too, why auroras had lit up the night sky at temperate latitudes so bright people could read newspapers by it; or why those at higher elevations near the equator could enjoy the aurora borealis and the aurora australis — simultaneously.

Now, the world a sesquicentury ago was not so dependent upon electricity as it is today. And the system of telegraphy was so ridiculously simple, that it was soon repaired. I daresay Morse Code is worth learning in preparation for the next Carrington Event — which, when it comes, we will be able to predict, at best, a few hours in advance. (Other cosmic events might impinge on our lifestyles meanwhile, but I like to consider my apocalypses one at a time.)

Gentle reader may do a mental inventory of the gizmos in his environment that are connected directly or indirectly to the power grid. Then add in anything that contains a computer chip, whether it happened to be “on” or “off” when the Earth’s magnetic field was impacted. For I assume it will all turn “on” of its own, for a brief but memorable interval.

The “beauty” (as they say in Cape Breton) is that we have no back-up system, and moreover, there can be no back-up, except what we can rig from horse, or paddle. For we have made ourselves totally dependent upon sparks.

On the plus side, the environmentalists may exult, because the quick reduction of the world’s population to post-Plague mediaeval levels could prove a lucky break for the other endangered species.

It will, even more happily, improve national security for the survivors in USA. For the same magnetic storm that makes the cities (and towns) of America uninhabitable will also have disabled the military capacities of Russia, China, and Iran. If they want to come at us they will have to do so in sailing ships. Moreover, the depopulation of Mexico will probably reduce the invasion threat from there, whether or not Donald Trump is President.

David Warren, “The highest tech”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-08-22.

June 16, 2017

Canada’s oldest wind farm shutting down but “if there is an incentive, we’d jump all over that”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The owner of the oldest operating wind farm in Alberta is desperately hoping for a big government subsidy to replace the old wind turbines at their Cowley Ridge facility:

The oldest commercial wind power facility in Canada has been shut down and faces demolition after 23 years of transforming brisk southern Alberta breezes into electricity — and its owner says building a replacement depends on the next moves of the provincial NDP government.

TransAlta Corp. said Tuesday the blades on 57 turbines at its Cowley Ridge facility near Pincher Creek have already been halted and the towers are to be toppled and recycled for scrap metal this spring. The company inherited the now-obsolete facility, built between 1993 and 1994, as part of its $1.6-billion hostile takeover of Calgary-based Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. in 2009.

“TransAlta is very interested in repowering this site. Unfortunately, right now, it’s not economically feasible,” Wayne Oliver, operations supervisor for TransAlta’s wind operations in Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod, said in an interview.

“We’re anxiously waiting to see what incentives might come from our new government. . . . Alberta is an open market and the wholesale price when it’s windy is quite low, so there’s just not the return on investment in today’s situation. So, if there is an incentive, we’d jump all over that.”

In February, TransAlta president and chief executive Dawn Farrell said the company’s plans to invest in hydroelectric, wind, solar and natural gas cogeneration facilities in Alberta were on hold until the details of the province’s climate-change plans are known.

August 12, 2016

Good news! Electricity in Ontario is cheaper to produce than ever before!

The bad news? It’s more expensive to consume than ever before, thanks to the way the Ontario government has manipulated the market:

You may be surprised to learn that electricity is now cheaper to generate in Ontario than it has been for decades. The wholesale price, called the Hourly Ontario Electricity Price or HOEP, used to bounce around between five and eight cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), but over the last decade, thanks in large part to the shale gas revolution, it has trended down to below three cents, and on a typical day is now as low as two cents per kWh. Good news, right?

It would be, except that this is Ontario. A hidden tax on Ontario’s electricity has pushed the actual purchase price in the opposite direction, to the highest it’s ever been. The tax, called the Global Adjustment (GA), is levied on electricity purchases to cover a massive provincial slush fund for green energy, conservation programs, nuclear plant repairs and other central planning boondoggles. As these spending commitments soar, so does the GA.

In the latter part of the last decade when the HOEP was around five cents per kWh and the government had not yet begun tinkering, the GA was negligible, so it hardly affected the price. In 2009, when the Green Energy Act kicked in with massive revenue guarantees for wind and solar generators, the GA jumped to about 3.5 cents per kWh, and has been trending up since — now it is regularly above 9.5 cents. In April it even topped 11 cents, triple the average HOEP.

The only people doing well out of this are the lucky cronies of the government who signed up for provincial subsidies on alternative energy (primarily wind and solar), who reap rents of well over 100% thanks to guaranteed minimum prices for electricity from non-traditional sources.

March 13, 2016

Are Electric Cars Really Green?

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Feb 2016

Are electric cars greener than conventional gasoline cars? If so, how much greener? What about the CO2 emissions produced during electric cars’ production? And where does the electricity that powers electric cars come from? Environmental economist Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, examines how environmentally friendly electric cars really are.

October 17, 2015

Tesla’s latest software update includes self-driving program (almost)

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Tesla does over-the-air updates for their electric cars (which is kinda neat). The latest update includes an almost-but-not-quite self-driving feature:

Tonight, Tesla makes its cars autonomous. Well, semi-autonomous. And it did it with an over-the-air update, effectively making tens of thousands of cars already sold to customers way better.

There are two things to talk about here. There’s the small story about the features and what the upgrade actually looks like and how it works. That’s a good place to start: This is the biggest change to the visual display of the Model S and X ever. There are new instrument panels, app windows are larger and take up more of the 17-inch touchscreen. Drivers will now get more information about what their cars are doing when in Autopilot, they can lock and unlock their car from the status bar. There’s a new clock!

These are simple cosmetic changes. The Big Story is that all of this—and really, who cares about anything beyond autopilot mode?—is being pushed through to customers’ Teslas overnight. The update will begin being pushed out tonight, and will hit every Tesla made and sold in the US in the past year over the course of this week.

Before you get too excited about an autonomous, hands-free present, you need to know that you can’t nap in the back, chauffeured around in beautiful, electric silence.

Even in Autopilot, you keep your hands on the steering wheel. Well… you don’t have to keep your hands on the steering wheel. You can rest them on your knees (resting on knees, palms up, fingertips touching the wheel is advised), or keep one pinky on the wheel. And okay, you can take your hands off altogether for a moment. But after a few seconds, your car will give you a little message, asking you to touch the wheel in some capacity.

September 21, 2015

Command and Control Solutions

Published on 18 Mar 2015

What happened to the cleanliness of your clothes after the U.S. Department of Energy issued new washing machine requirements? The requirements — which require washers to use 21% less energy — mean that washers actually clean clothes less than they used to. Is “command and control” an efficient way to achieve the desired outcome (which is less pollution)? Rather than a standard requirement, such as the Department of Energy issued, a tax on electricity would provide users with greater flexibility in their washing—and would prompt people to purchase machines that use energy more efficiently and keep their clothes clean.

Are there times when a command and control solution to a problem makes the most sense? We look at the eradication of smallpox as one example.

August 5, 2015

A report on phasing out nuclear power in Sweden

It may make politicians and activists feel empowered and righteous, but it has negative aspects that don’t seem to get the same level of attention as the “feel good” rhetoric does:

Nuclear power faces an uncertain future in Sweden. Major political parties, including the Green party of the coalition-government have recently strongly advocated for a policy to decommission the Swedish nuclear fleet prematurely. Here we examine the environmental, health and (to a lesser extent) economic impacts of implementing such a plan. The process has already been started through the early shutdown of the Barsebäck plant. We estimate that the political decision to shut down Barsebäck has resulted in ~2400 avoidable energy-production-related deaths and an increase in global CO2 emissions of 95 million tonnes to date (October 2014). The Swedish reactor fleet as a whole has reached just past its halfway point of production, and has a remaining potential production of up to 2100 TWh. The reactors have the potential of preventing 1.9–2.1 gigatonnes of future CO2-emissions if allowed to operate their full lifespans. The potential for future prevention of energy-related-deaths is 50,000–60,000. We estimate an 800 billion SEK (120 billion USD) lower-bound estimate for the lost tax revenue from an early phase-out policy. In sum, the evidence shows that implementing a ‘nuclear-free’ policy for Sweden (or countries in a similar situation) would constitute a highly retrograde step for climate, health and economic protection.

April 4, 2015

Measured for Transport, 1962

Filed under: Britain, Railways, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 23 Dec 2013

Archive film, moving a new power station transformer by rail to Blaenau Ffestiniog Wales.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

April 1, 2015

Fossil fuels are not going away anytime soon

Filed under: Environment, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Matt Ridley on the piously hoped-for breakthroughs in renewable energy sources … that still seem as distant as they did decades ago:

The environmental movement has advanced three arguments in recent years for giving up fossil fuels: (1) that we will soon run out of them anyway; (2) that alternative sources of energy will price them out of the marketplace; and (3) that we cannot afford the climate consequences of burning them.

These days, not one of the three arguments is looking very healthy. In fact, a more realistic assessment of our energy and environmental situation suggests that, for decades to come, we will continue to rely overwhelmingly on the fossil fuels that have contributed so dramatically to the world’s prosperity and progress.

In 2013, about 87% of the energy that the world consumed came from fossil fuels, a figure that — remarkably — was unchanged from 10 years before. This roughly divides into three categories of fuel and three categories of use: oil used mainly for transport, gas used mainly for heating, and coal used mainly for electricity.

[…]

So those who predict the imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels are merely repeating the mistakes of the U.S. presidential commission that opined in 1922 that “already the output of gas has begun to wane. Production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate.” Or President Jimmy Carter when he announced on television in 1977 that “we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”

That fossil fuels are finite is a red herring. The Atlantic Ocean is finite, but that does not mean that you risk bumping into France if you row out of a harbor in Maine. The buffalo of the American West were infinite, in the sense that they could breed, yet they came close to extinction. It is an ironic truth that no nonrenewable resource has ever run dry, while renewable resources — whales, cod, forests, passenger pigeons — have frequently done so.

[…]

As for renewable energy, hydroelectric is the biggest and cheapest supplier, but it has the least capacity for expansion. Technologies that tap the energy of waves and tides remain unaffordable and impractical, and most experts think that this won’t change in a hurry. Geothermal is a minor player for now. And bioenergy — that is, wood, ethanol made from corn or sugar cane, or diesel made from palm oil — is proving an ecological disaster: It encourages deforestation and food-price hikes that cause devastation among the world’s poor, and per unit of energy produced, it creates even more carbon dioxide than coal.

Wind power, for all the public money spent on its expansion, has inched up to — wait for it — 1% of world energy consumption in 2013. Solar, for all the hype, has not even managed that: If we round to the nearest whole number, it accounts for 0% of world energy consumption.

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