September 29, 2009

How do we overcome resistance to change?

There's been a lot of discussion of how to overcome resistance to change, especially to the changes needed to deal with climate change. I think a lot of it's been pretty unrealistic.

We need to stop butting our head pointlessly against those who will be hurt by a transition to renewables (and other new ways of doing things) - that's the path to the paralysis we see now. We need to find ways to buy out/compensate those who will be hurt.

This applies especially to coal consumption: there isn't any country in the world that will let the lights go out, if coal is available (This means that we don't face Peak Energy: we face Peak Oil and Climate Change).

With luck, we'll start building out wind and solar even faster. When it starts hurting revenues for investors in coal, we'll need to find a a way to buy them out to maintain the pace of the transition.


We need to stop butting our head pointlessly against those who will be hurt by a transition to renewables - that's the path to the paralysis we see now. We need to find ways to buy out/compensate those who will be hurt.

A classic story: Manhattan needed more cab drivers, but faced resistance from the current drivers, who would face more competition. The solution? Giving the licenses to the old drivers, so they could sell them and get the benefit of the new resource. It accomplished the result, and yet the existing drivers were happy.

We need creative ways to enlist the investors, and employees, in existing industries, so that they become enthusiastic partners. Otherwise, they'll fight change forever, in the exhausting trench warfare we see today.
The Cash For Clunkers program was a good example.

Criticism of CFC seems a bit "hindsight is 20/20" ish. While it's always good to identify where something could be improved, it seems we should acknowledge that

1) it did what it was intended to do - primarily to stimulate auto sales and the economy, amd secondarily to improve efficiency,

2) it was an improvement over the European programs from which the US got the idea (they had no efficiency provisions), and

3) CFC got intense criticism during the drafting process for the efficiency provisions, as many people thought they would limit the program too much.

Sure, it was expensive: that's the point of stimulus programs, to put money into the economy.

Efficiency regulations are cheap for the government, and great in theory, but the difficulty is that you're creating costs for those who are regulated, so that they'll fight the regulations tooth and nail. We have to acknowledge the costs in delay created by a parsimonious approach. We may need to compensate people for their costs in order to get things moving.

Shouldn't Cash for Clunkers have had much stronger efficiency requirements?


The problem here is that the political context in which such legislation is crafted doesn't contain the PO/CC awareness needed to support more aggressive action. CAFE requirements should be much higher; we should have stiff carbon/fuel taxes; we should be doing many other things such as cap and trade in addition to regulatory efficiency improvements such as CAFE and carbon taxes (not to mention building efficiency).

Of course, we have most of the information we need to take action. Much of the reason for delay is resistance in the form of disinformation ("FUD") from those who would lose careers and investments. That's one good feature of "C4C": it overcomes such resistance by paying people to give up their inefficient capital investments (rather than just making them obsolete by regulation).

Finally, we learn by doing and trial & error. There was much speculation that the efficiency requirements were too stiff, and that as a result the program would fail for lack of participation. Instead, there was so much demand that they expanded the program substantially.

September 26, 2009

Does sustainability mean less complexity?

A popular theory about the challenges of dealing with resource limitations suggests that resource limits may force us to simplify (Tainter).

Probably not. Here's an example: bricks that use less energy, recycle pollutants, and cost less..but rely on more precise (read complex) manufacturing.

"Bricks have been made pretty much the same way for 3,000 years, until Calstar's scientists came up with their new technique, said Chief Executive Michael Kane.

Ordinary bricks are fired for 24 hours at 2,000 degrees F (1,093 C) as part of a process that can last a week, while Calstar bricks are baked at temperatures below 212 F (100 C) and take only 10 hours from start to finish, Kane said.

The recipe incorporates large amounts of fly ash -- a fluffy, powdery residue of burned coal at electric plants, that can otherwise wind up as a troublesome pollutant.

"Ours is a precise product" that relies on getting the chemistry right, said Amitabha Kumar, Calstar's director of research and development."

September 16, 2009

Is Climate Change real?

Sure looks like it. Here's a report that was signed off on by old-fashioned management consulting firm McKinsey:

"The study looked at eight areas, both rich and poor, around the world seen as high risk from more droughts, hurricanes, floods and rising sea levels that climate change may cause.

In the worst-case scenario, global warming could trigger severe flooding in Guyana, costing the South American country over 19 percent of its annual GDP by 2030, the report said.

The hurricane-prone U.S. state of Florida could see weather-related costs knock 10 percent off its GDP each year.

The group that produced the report is made up of the United Nations, insurer Swiss Re, management consultancy McKinsey, the European Commission, the Rockefeller Foundation, Standard Chartered Bank and environmental network ClimateWorks."


September 11, 2009

How expensive is the wind power needed to eliminate Chinese coal??

Previously, I asked How expensive is the wind power needed to eliminate coal in the US??

Well, China's emissions are just as high.

What would it cost in China?

It turns out: not much, in the grand scheme of things. Only about 7.5 cents per KWH

“Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Barren, windy stretches of the Tibetan plateau and grasslands in northeastern China hold untapped value in a country searching for more energy and cleaner air.

China, the biggest polluter from burning fossil fuels, has enough wind-energy potential to generate seven times its current power consumption, said Michael McElroy, a researcher at Harvard University. To develop that capacity and meet rising demand would cost about $900 billion, he wrote in a study published yesterday in Science.”

This is only $90B per year for 10 years, which really isn't much, expecially given that other power sources wouldn't be much cheaper.

Volt battery costs, part 5

Are li-ion battery costs really dropping?

Yes. here are some retail costs:

We see that current Lithium cells are about $350/kWh for individual purchases. We can expect that an OEM can get them for around 50% of that (no more than $200/kWh), which places GM's wholesale cost for the Volt pack in the neighborhood of $3,200.

The range in the Volt is electronically limited in order to avoid any warranty issues with pack replacement (due to California Air Resources Board requirements). Essentially, GM's only letting the pack discharge to about half, so when capacity drops with age/cycling, as it does with all batteries, they can get more mileage out of it compared to going with a smaller pack and having the range drop below 40 miles within twenty+ thousand miles.

Going by specs for the retail batteries above, 5000 cycles before they hit 70% capacity would be at least .7(40 miles)5000 = ~140,000 miles until the pack capacity degrades to 70%, and probably ~200,000 miles before it degrades to 50% and drivers can't go a full 40 miles on all electric power w/ something like the Volt.

GM had to, in effect, de-rate their battery pack because the California Air Resources Board requirements for PHEVs are very stringent. Pure EVs don't have these requirements, so manufacturers can get away with using the whole pack.

September 8, 2009

Would we have been better off without oil?


We would have gone to Electric Vehicles. In 1899 EVs outsold everything else (1,575 electric vehicles, 1,681 steam cars and 936 gasoline cars were sold). By 1912 there were thousands of EVs on the road, and electric trucks were also selling well. Here's some interesting history and analysis.

Ferdinand Porsche
designed an extended range EV like the contemporary Chevy Volt in 1904*. Given that an ErEV uses 10% as much liquid fuel as a contemporary US ICE vehicle, it could have run on our limited supplies of ethanol - the Model T was built to run on ethanol. where the Volt is today, roughly

The lack of oil would have slowed down personal transportation only slightly.

Isn't oil irreplaceable?

Electricity successfully replaced oil in the late 1800's for lighting - the Edison bulb was superior in every way to kerosene. If gasoline for automobiles hadn't come along, the oil industry would have been in real trouble.

Now it's time for electricity to do the same for transportation. Electric motors are superior in every way to infernal combustion engines. Now that oil is no longer dirt cheap, and batteries are finally good enough to power hybrids and plug-ins, the transition is under way.

“I'd put my money on solar energy… I hope we don't have to wait til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” —Thomas Edison, in conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, March 1931

That's a great quote, isn't it?

I read a conspiracy theory once, that claimed that Edison was developing an improved battery and planning an EV in cooperation with Henry Ford, but that all of his labs were attacked by arson to prevent it. I have no idea if this theory is credible**.

In the long run, of course, Edison was right. In the meantime, we have a solar derivative in the form of wind as our cheapest source of renewable power.

*Many ErEVs have been designed, including production models in 1916, and concept models later in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. The EV-1 engineers built a rough version, in order to simplify vehicle testing. The Renault Elect’Road was the first ErEV sold, in 2003. It was discontinued after 500 were sold. It uses a manually controlled 21hp genset to extend the range of its 13kwh nimh battery pack. Electric only range is 50 miles, 60mph max speed, and the 10 liter gas tank allowed perhaps another 100 mile range. See here.

**Here's a quote from an enthusiastic reviewer of a book that discusses it:

"His new book, an exposé of the confluence of corrupt forces that killed the growth of nonfossil transportation fuels, the trolley system and what is now called "alternative energy," is presented in the context of history stretching over a millennium, back when wood was man's primary fuel and horses were the main form of conveyance.

"Quite the gripping Gilded Age saga. Black documents the machinations of the coal industry as well - back to the 13th century or thereabouts, the Royal Foresters and proscriptions against the commonry taking so much as a twig out of the woods; this evolving into use of coal far before the Newcome engine. Exactly how much of this is suitable stuff for Art Bell I'm not sure and don't care; the material on the decades of half-measure attempts to market crude EVs is where the story really hits its stride. " (source of quote)