February 22, 2012

Resistance to Change: #8 in a Annoying Series

New book out today:

"The Fox Effect"

"The Fox Effect follows the career of Ailes... consultant for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush... president of Rupert Murdoch’s flagship conservative cable news network... political operative... extraordinary power and influence to spread a partisan political agenda that is at odds with long-established, widely held standards of fairness and objectivity in news reporting."

In the conversations leading to the creation of Fox News, the project was referred to as "GOP T.V.", "Grand Old Party Television".

When talking about any kind of public policy issue with a heavy consumer of Fox product, it is very difficult to agree on matters of simple fact.



February 21, 2012

Are electric trucks now viable?

Yes, it looks that way, after a long period in which very low volumes made costs look high.

Here's an electric truck whose battery must cost less than $500/kWh: 80kWh @$500/kWh gives $40k, more than half of the sales price of $70k. This plumbing company expects their new trucks to reduce operating costs by about $7 per year, and capital costs must be dropping as well, as they last 3x as long:

"It's been a couple years since we first saw the Boulder Electric Vehicle prototype in action but now comes word that the company has delivered its very first production vehicle. The initial DV-500 (as it is affectionately called) has been sold to Denver-area Precision Plumbing,Heating & Cooling who have made a commitment to buy 20 of the all-electrics at a very reasonable-sounding $70,000 apiece.

In addition to obvious changes in appearance, its performance also differs slightly from the original. The production version boasts an 80-kWh battery pack made up of China-sourced lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) cells that weigh in at 1,300 lbs and are said to be good for 120 miles of range. Power comes from an 80-kW AC motor that gives the 7,000-lb truck a 70 mile-per-hour top speed. Charging can take up to eight hours.

Precision Plumbing's Tom Robichaud says that despite the higher up-front costs, he expects to save $6,000 to $8,000 per vehicle per year in lower operating costs and anticipates the trucks to be good for 300,000 miles. Currently, he says, the Sprinter vans he uses now are replaced after 100,000 miles. In anticipation of the electric fleet, the company has also installed a solar array at its facilities.

Boulder Electric Vehicle reportedly has five production lines set up and is busy building the vehicles for Precision and other customers. The company also has plans for a bigger truck that doubles the 500 cubic foot capacity of the DV-500. Hit the jump for a couple clips featuring Mr. Robichaud and his new promotionally wrapped plumbing van."


"electric vehicles can markedly lower the costs of a fleet of delivery trucks. That’s the conclusion of a new MIT study showing that electric vehicles are not just environmentally friendly, but also have a potential economic upside for many kinds of businesses.

The study, conducted by researchers at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), finds that electric vehicles can cost 9 to 12 percent less to operate than trucks powered by diesel engines, when used to make deliveries on an everyday basis in big cities.

...there have been “no real surprises from a reliability perspective, but I was surprised by the drivers’ acceptance, to the point where they do not ever want to drive a diesel [truck] again.”


“Nearly 20% of our medium-heavy duty delivery trucks in the state of California are slated to be transitioned to all-electric vehicles. We have seen the accelerated growth and acquisition of this innovative technology because of the support from California. It’s these private and public partnerships that create the momentum that alternative fuel vehicles need to become even more competitive.

...In the U.S., Frito-Lay hopes to reduce its total fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020, compared to 2007 baseline. "


February 11, 2012

Are fossil fuels better than wind, solar and nuclear?


Fossil fuels in general, and oil in particular, appeared to be great in their day, but they are much more expensive than they appear (IOW, they have large externalities) and they can and should be replaced ASAP.

So, what's wrong with the common view that they are?

First, green house gas emissions are important. The scientific consensus is that GHGs are a big problem, and there is a large risk that they are a very big problem. That alone would push fossil fuels down below solar, wind and nuclear.

Second, fossil fuels are not reliable. The US is still fighting a $2 trillion war to make access to oil slightly more reliable. An oil shock was a significant contributor to the 2008 recession, and has contributed to many recessions before that.

The US is effectively at war with the Middle East, albeit at a very low level of intensity. That means a war mentality, with circumscribed civil liberties, a vastly expanded military-industrial complex, an enormous diversion of engineering talent away from productive uses towards war technology (UAVs, etc).

Roosevelt struck a Faustian bargain with KSA, and the US has been embroiled in the ME ever since. Look at the US intervention in Iran in 1954, which caused so much grief starting with the anti-US/Shah uprising in 1979. The US has been the Great Satan in Iran ever since, with pretty good justification.

Have you ever wondered why US television is dominated by gory police procedurals (CSI, CSI-Miami, Naval-CIS, Law and Order in many flavors, etc,etc)? Americans live with a strong background anxiety, due to fear of terrorism (aka guerrilla warfare, aka asymmetric warfare), and that kind of programming conveys reassurance that the "authorities" have everything under control.

Third, oil is very, very costly right now. The US, and other oil importers, is transferring vast income and wealth to exporters, every day. The war discussed above costs somewhere above $500B every year: that's around $150 per barrel of imported oil! Just as importantly, the kind of background anxiety discussed above exacts a very, very high cost.

Fourth, the problem of renewable intermittency is not so important. In the medium term Demand Side Management and fossil fuel backup will work just fine. In the long term , overbuilding, and geographic diversity will provide most of what's needed, and synthetic fuels are perfectly viable for the small remaining percentage (they can be produced with current tech, at a price premium).

Fifth, oil isn't hard to replace. Land travel is very straightforward: freight can go to rail and short-haul electric trucks; passenger travel can go to EREVs (with ethanol for the remaining 10% of fuel needed for longer trips) and/or rail with car-shared EVs.

Water shipping and air travel is a small percentage of fuel consumption. They can be made much more efficient; wind and solar can provide a large percentage of water shipping energy; and synthetic fuels and biomass can provide the relatively small amount of fuel still needed.

Sixth, life without fossil fuels will be rather better: cleaner, just as affordable, nicer in many ways. For example, EVs have better handling and performance, are quieter, easier to own and maintain, longer lived and overall rather cheaper. I use relatively little FF, and feel my life is rather better for it. My well insulated house needs less noisy HVAC; my electric train is safer, and has a "chauffeur" who allows me to relax and meditate, work or read for enjoyment.

Perhaps as important, EVs won't require any oil wars, or anti-"terror" campaigns to keep viable. No more screening before flying, or worrying before using the subway. Yay.

Fossil fuels/oil are definitely not superior to the alternatives.

Legacy FF industries are using scare tactics to keep us addicted to FF. The truth is that existing technologies (efficiency; wind, solar and nuclear; rail, EVs, biomass and synthetic fuel) can provide energy that is cleaner, more scalable, more affordable and at least as reliable.

Oil is very costly, right now. We need to replace it ASAP!