Archive for Family Joules

The lightbearers of Fog City

In an Automobile magazine (October ’14) multi-page article about driving the BMW i3 through Silicon Valley, tucked into a sidebar, I found a little chart: “2013 Vehicle Sales by Fuel Type, San Francisco vs. U.S.” This oughta be good, I thought, and noted that ordinary, garden-variety gasoline-engined cars made up 76.41 percent of the total American market. In San Francisco? 76.88. How unspeakably, improbably … normal.

How is this even possible? SF buys three times as many hybrids (11.39 vs 3.66 percent), four times as many CNG cars (0.04 vs 0.01, no big deal) and nine times as many pure electrics (3.16 vs 0.37). Diesels are about even: 2.69 in SF, 2.98 for the nation as a whole. What they refuse to buy in the City by the Bay, apparently, is so-called “flex-fuel,” gasoline-powered cars that can run on up to 85 percent ethanol: only 5.83 percent of SF buyers opted for flex-fuel in ’13, versus 16.57 percent nationwide. I surmise that on this issue, if perhaps on no other, San Franciscans agree with me: the proper place for ethanol is not your fuel tank, but your shot glass.

Comments (3)




First cud is the deepest

Looks like Ronald Reagan called this one right on the nose:

Argentina’s National Institute for Agricultural Technology (INTA) has invented a way to convert cow flatulence into usable energy, and it involves putting a plastic backpack on a cow.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cow flatulence and burping, accounts for 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year in the United States, that’s 20% of total US methane emissions.

Yeah, but how much is that per cow?

According to the INTA experimentation, tubes run from the backpack into the cows’ rumen (or biggest digestive tract). They extract about 300 liters of methane a day, which is enough to run a car or a fridge for about 24 hours.

I’m guessing really large fridge or really small car.

I’m still not buying ketchup as a vegetable, though.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Comments (1)




Back into the Gas Game (maybe)

The Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan has returned to the Oklahoma Natural Gas lineup this fall, and the target price is $5.349 per dekatherm. Now the last time their price was that low was in February; it’s been between $5.50 and $7 since. Of course, we don’t know when they bought this gas they were selling this month for $6.434, otherwise it would be a simple matter of tracking commodity prices; in August the spot price at Henry Hub (in Louisiana, a common benchmark price) was $3.91, and the last time it was as high as $5.349 was — well, February, when tight supplies and the Polar Vortex pushed it up to $6.00. If ONG is still paying $6, either they’re offering a premium to insure supplies or they’re working off some very old contracts, or maybe both.

So maybe I should think in terms of Maximum Gas Bill. Last winter, which was a sumbitch by any standards, my worst-case consumption was 12.3 Dth over 32 days, including several days which dipped well below 10°F. At $5.349, including all the taxes and charges and fees and whatnot, this volume works out to about $110, which I consider in the bearable range. (What I laughingly call a budget calls for $220 for gas and electric combined; I can’t remember the last time I had a winter electric bill over $100.) I have almost a month to make a decision on this, and I may use all of it.

Update, 12 October: I blew it off as late as I could, and was going to ignore it altogether when the Web option presented itself, since it required (of course) registration. To my surprise, the new bill arrived in plenty of time to send the form, so I’m enrolled.

Comments (1)




True (cheap) enlightenment

From Bill Quick’s Amazon recommendations, something unexpected: 48 100 Watt GE Soft White Incandescent Light Bulbs (Case of 48) – $39.00. With free shipping, yet.

You’d think Wicked Contraband like this would sell for more than $0.8125 per unit. Quips Bill: “So … apparently that ‘ban’ on 100 watt incandescents isn’t really all that much of a ban.”

At the bottom of the specifications is this curious item: “Lumen Maintenance Factor at the End of Life.” Amazon explains it this way:

The lumen maintenance factor at the end of the life is the percentage of original brightness, or luminous flux, given off by a light bulb at the end of its life.

This bulb’s LMF is given as “1690,” which doesn’t look like a percentage of original anything. But based on the old rule for incandescents — 16 lumens per watt — I presume that these stay nice and bright right up until the moment that the filament shatters.

Comments (2)




LED astray

Last November:

I escalated to LightCon 3, installing a pair of funky-looking but still bulb-shaped LED lights, with approximately the same brightness — 800 lumens — and 12-watt power consumption. Color temperature, at 3000°K, is slightly higher (therefore less “warm” — go figure), and assuming three hours’ usage a day, these critters are supposed to last eight years. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to last eight years.

Admittedly, they got more than three hours’ usage a day — six was typical — and yet one of them has died at the pitiful age of nine months. It also made a weird blat and emitted a strange smell, like I don’t get enough of that in the kitchen already.

Comments (4)




Spilled watts

If I draw 10 gallons of Shell V-Power out of the pump, I’m getting, give or take a tablespoon or two, 10 gallons; the Corporation Commission sees to that. After that, the laws of physics kick in, and internal-combustion engines are not exactly celebrated for their efficiency, which is one reason why electric-powered cars are selling in quantities no longer describable as miniscule.

Then again, if you draw 100 kilowatt-hours out of the line, how much of that is the car going to use? Here’s what one Tesla Model S owner found, after installing a digital submeter to determine exactly how much juice is leaving the outlet and going into the car:

[T]he Model S reported 728 kWh used during the period but the meter reported 894 kWh used. This means my charging efficiency is only about 82% and electric usage (and cost) is 18% higher than I may have expected based on the readings the Model S provides. For that month this is an extra $26 of charging cost which is a small number but a notable percentage of the total.

At his, um, current (sorry) electrical rate, he wound up using $143 worth of electricity for that month — to drive 2,417 miles. At my around-town figure of 21.5 mpg, this means I’d be buying 112.4 gallons of gas to drive that same distance, and at last weekend’s fillup price ($3.299), I’m looking at $370 in fuel costs. So even if Tesla doesn’t win by as much as he’d hoped — some electrics, he says, manage 90-percent charging efficiency — it’s still a pretty substantial win.

(Via Autoblog Green.)

Comments (3)




Face the sun and dance

Buried at the bottom of a Telegraph article on solar energy:

In the UK, the average domestic solar PV system is 3.5 to 4kWp and typically costs from £5,500 to £9,500. A 4kWp system can generate around 3,700 kilowatt hours of electricity a year — roughly equivalent to a typical household’s electricity needs.

As well as this, households using a solar panel will be paid a minimum sum for all electricity generated by their system, known as the Feed-In Tariff (Fit). The Fit currently stands at 14.38p per kilowatt hour (kwh) for each unit of electricity created, providing an income of around of around £785 a year.

HM Government is paying a quarter (well, 24 cents) for a kilowatt-hour that averages 12 cents in the States? Hell of a deal. Then again, my household is atypical; I go through about 8000 kWh a year, which costs me around $900.

Obviously I’m not going to get this sort of rebate from the Crown if I actually were to mount some solar panels. And there’s always the question of where to put them:

Conventional wisdom in the northern hemisphere is to face solar panels south so they get the most exposure to sunlight during the day.

Architects and installers, as a rule, use this approach all the time particularly on home solar panel installations.

In November, American research revealed that panels facing west may actually get more energy from the sun, and at more convenient times.

Certainly explains why all my roses turn westward.

Scientists found that when homeowners faced their panels west they were able to generate more electricity each day. They also generated more electricity in the afternoon, when power grids experience peak demand. Though the increase was small — just two per cent — experts said it would certainly add up over the years.

Add to this the afternoon boost, reducing grid dependence during peak hours by 65 per cent as opposed to 54 per cent for south facing panels, could have widespread efficiency implications beyond single homes.

On the other hand, there are good reasons for purely southern exposure:

[T]hat is precisely the correct direction if your goal is to have a source of power for your battery banks in the event of a grid-down situation.

Not that anything like that could ever, ever happen.

And anyway, the orientation of my little love shack is such that any alignment to any of the name-brand compass points — say, north by northwest — is going to be just a hair off.

Comments (2)




Checking for flattenability

Seven years ago, OG&E sent me a promotional piece for something they called the Guaranteed Flat Bill program. My reaction to GFB was basically, um, GMAFB:

It is, however, 16.7 percent above my actual bills for the last twelve months, which came to $728.52. I’m having a little trouble seeing how this is any advantage over the existing Average Monthly Billing plan.

And in the fine print in the back, it says this: “Customers who participate in the GFB rate plan are not eligible for OG&E’s wind power program.”

And maybe that’s the whole idea: those of us who signed up for wind power, who realize a price break every time fuel costs go up, need to be pried out of that subscription and into something that won’t cost them money.

This year, they quote me an actual Average Monthly Amount of $90.95 and a GFB figure of $82.96, which sounds a bit less daunting — the tariff has apparently been revised in the interim — though I figure the major coup here was sending it right on the heels of a regular monthly bill for around $125. And wind-power subscribers are no longer excluded.

I still have my doubts about this thing, though.

Comments off




Songs of braise

Let’s say you want some of that neat Alternative Energy, and the very next item on your list is killing as many birds as possible. So you put up a wind turbine, right? Not necessarily:

A new study from the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory [pdf] obtained by KCET gives some depressing and gruesome details of bird deaths occurring at industrial solar facilities.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees and energy company staff found 233 birds of 71 different species at three California solar facilities — Ivanpah, Genesis, and Desert Sunlight — during random surveys over two years. That’s not a huge number of birds (though the limited scope of the collections means it’s just a fraction of the actual deaths), but what’s shocking is the way some of these birds are dying: They are literally being burned alive, in midair.

And some of them are perishing in a different manner entirely:

Researchers found an unusually high number of water birds dead at the Desert Sunlight facility. These birds, including grebes, herons, ducks, and even pelicans, died not from the heat but from blunt force trauma. The cause was clear, as stated in the report: “A desert environment punctuated by a large expanse of reflective, blue panels may be reminiscent of a large body of water.” These birds — tired from flying over the hot desert — home in on what looks like a calm lake but instead crash into hard panels. They either die instantly or, as researchers found, lie helpless for land-based predators.

Of course, mean, nasty, wicked coal gets soot all over their feathers.

(Via Tim Blair.)

Comments (2)




Shaking and stirred

Given my stand on energy generally — we need to produce so damned much of it that the marginal cost eventually nears zero, which happy event will bring us closer to utopia than any scheme yet imagined in Washington — I derive no joy from picking on the oil and gas guys that pay a lot of the bills around here. But dammit, there are still some questions that need to be answered:

Are all these recent earthquakes, some in the 4.0-magnitude or larger range, capable of damaging homes over the long term? Could the repeated shaking damage house foundations or window seals or roofs, for example? Can the oil and gas industry be held liable for the damage? What is the possibility of a larger quake in the 6.0- to 7.0-magnitude or larger range? Would lives be lost if the big earthquake hits?

In the absence of definitive data, these are my guesses: almost certainly, almost certainly, they’ll be sued but the outcome is not clear, about even money, depends on where it hits.

What I see as a best-case scenario: the industry, grumbling, revises the fracking process to reduce the threat, and even manages to cut down the enormous water use. Chances of that: don’t bet your life savings on it.

Comments (5)




Not getting with the program

Take that, “SmartHours”!

I am NOT, however, going to hew to the “set it to 80 for the hours of 2 to 7 pm” like some power companies recommend. When I come home, hot and tired, from doing fieldwork or teaching in a hot building, I don’t want to have to wait several hours to be able to cool myself off again.

When it gets up around 110, you’re going to end up with close to 80 anyway: these semi-miraculous machines can only do so much.

Comments (8)




Hard cells

Apart from a general lack of range, Tesla’s Model S notwithstanding, the major objection to electric cars seems to be the price of replacement batteries, and battery packs for full electrics like Nissan’s Leaf would cost much more than packs for hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Some recent (well, within the last two years, anyway) estimates:

Lithium-ion battery costs will fall to about $400 per kilowatt hour by the end of the decade, more than double the $150 per kilowatt hour the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium says will be required for battery-electric vehicles to be affordable to most of the car-buying public. So says a new report from Lux Research.

Estimates of battery costs have varied as automakers and tech analysts have looked into ways to make them cheaper. The Nissan Leaf EV’s battery pack has been reported to be as cheap as $375 per kilowatt hour, while Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said last month that battery costs may fall to less than $200 per kilowatt hour “in the not-too-distant future.”

But that was two years ago. How about now? How about $270?

Battery replacements are now available for purchase at your certified Nissan LEAF dealers in the United States. The suggested retail price of the Nissan LEAF battery pack is $5,499. This price includes and requires a return of your original battery pack (valued at $1,000) to the dealer in exchange for the new battery. This price does not include tax, installation fees or an installation kit required for 2011 and 2012 vehicles. The MSRP for the installation kit (which includes brackets and other minor parts required to retrofit the newer pack to original vehicles) is approximately $225. Nissan expects the installation to take about three hours. However, dealers set the final pricing, so we recommend confirming with your local retailer.

Figuring $6500 as a worst-case estimate, the 24-kWh replacement battery pack for the Leaf comes in at $270.83/kWh, and comes with the same warranty as the pack installed in new cars — 8 years/100,000 miles against failure, 5 years/60,000 miles against loss of capacity. (A new battery pack at full charge shows 12 bars on the Leaf’s display screen; capacity is deemed insufficient if it won’t charge up to at least 9.)

The smaller NiMH battery packs in Toyota hybrids sell for $2300 and up, depending on application; however, the 2015 Prius will switch to lithium-ion cells.

Comments off




Currently Freon bond

An Ohio man who contrived to steal industrial air-conditioning units from around Columbus will serve time for violating the Clean Air Act:

Martin C. Eldridge III, 35, [address redacted], pleaded guilty … to one count of violating the Clean Air Act. He agreed to a 31-month prison term and 200 hours of community service as part of a plea deal.

According to court documents, Eldridge and others stole 49 air conditioners for parts in 2013. During the thefts, Eldridge cut tubing that ran from each unit to the building it serviced, and that released the refrigerant HCFC-22, also known as Freon [22], into the air. HCFC-22 is a threat to the ozone layer and is regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Let this be a lesson to those of you who believe the Environmental Protection Agency is of no use at all.

(Via Consumerist.)

Comments (3)




Keeping the green in the greenhouse

A TTAC commenter, only slightly more caustic than average, on an inconvenient future:

The controversy will die instead, and people with a certain world view and agenda will invent another crisis, and deny they ever believed in catastrophic man-made global warming. Nothing effective is being done about carbon emissions, and, realistically, nothing can be done.

People do not want to be poor, so hydrocarbons are burned as fast as they can be pulled out of the ground. The more you burn, the wealthier you are. Al Gore burns a sh*t-ton. This will continue until hydrocarbons become scarce, which is not happening any time soon. Fracking is spreading across the world, and after fracking may come something else to get at even more hydrocarbons.

The apocalypse illusion is costly, because of the economic cost of farcical pinprick “carbon reduction” schemes, but ultimately moot. People will always burn as much hydrocarbon as they can get their hands on because they do not want to be cold and hungry. For the vast majority of applications, nothing else makes economic sense. The proof is in the numbers. Even the US partial conversion from coal to natural gas is meaningless. We just export the coal somewhere else, and they burn it. Debate all you want, climate religionists, you are p*ssing into the wind.

We will, of course, run out eventually. For the last hundred years or so, we’ve had maybe 10-15 years of the stuff left; I won’t be around for all of the next hundred, but I suspect the situation will be similarly dire. The supply of farcical pricks, however, will never, ever come close to being exhausted.

Comments (1)




Celling points

Three years ago, Hyundai announced that they’d build a thousand Tucsons with fuel-cell propulsion, the first batch of which would be in place by 2015.

They will be profitable, perhaps, but not because of their pricing:

While the first hydrogen-powered Tucson FCVs left the docks in California in the last week of May, Hyundai knows the vehicles aren’t meant to add to the company’s bottom line, but are meant to garner credits for future use.

WardsAuto reports the Korean automaker will earn as much as 26 CARB credits for every Tucson FCV leased through 2017, each vehicle equal to $130,000 in credit. Fuel cell boss Byung Ki Ahn believes his company could then sell those credits to automakers in need of offsetting their carbon footprint, though Hyundai has no plans on the table to do so at this time, preferring to use the credits for themselves for less compliant vehicles of their own design.

Ahn, at the time of the announcement of the program, said that Hyundai hoped eventually to be able to sell the Tucson FCV for $50,000.

Comments off




Twice upon a breeze

There are those who can’t stand the thought of wind turbines, especially after they’ve seen some up close. Tim Blair, on the other hand, has found at least two semi-salutary purposes for them:

Besides cleansing the skies of untidy birdlife, it emerges that wind turbines have one other useful purpose. They are a rich source of valuable copper for French metal thieves.

Le Figaro reports that a network of French metal bandits has recently harvested tonnes of copper from around 20 wind turbines. Apparently it’s a simple matter of breaking into the turbines, climbing internal stairs to the top, then using bolt cutters to remove all the copper wiring from the turbine’s generator.

Each tonne of copper — and a single wind turbine may yield that much by itself — is worth around $A6500 in Europe, so this is very profitable work for your entrepreneurial French turbine-wrecking community.

In other news, there are entrepreneurial French.

At least getting the wiring down from up there is relatively simple, what with gravity and all.

Comments (1)




The new one-drop rule

Whatever the opposite of “booster” is, that’s what I am towards gasoline adulterated with 15 percent ethanol. I tolerate E10, since it doesn’t seem to have had any negative effects on my car as yet, but E15 I just don’t trust.

I hadn’t seen any E15 around town yet, so I had no idea how to respond to this:

But being me, I am required to get the facts of the matter, and they go like this:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that all consumers in the United States must purchase at least 4 gallons of gasoline when they go to the gas station, if they are getting fuel from a pump that also offers a new E15 ethanol-gasoline blend.

The Obama administration wants consumers to use more of the E15 fuel — a blend that contains 15 percent ethanol — but the problem is that many gas stations use blender pumps, which offer several types of fuel and, after pumping, there always is a residual amount of fuel in the hose. E15 fuel can potentially damage engines made prior to 2000 and it cannot be used in motorcycles, ATVs, and many other engines, such as lawn mowers and boat engines.

So, to circumvent the potential problems, the EPA is requiring a 4-gallon minimum from blender pumps to ensure that any E15 fuel residue is diluted. (Stations that provide a completely separate, single hose for E15 only are exempt from the rule.)

The pump in the picture apparently vends both E10 and E15 — and possibly even E0.

My car, you’ll remember, was made in 2000. (Actually, it was made in September 1999, but it’s a 2000 model.)

The people most inconvenienced by this, I suspect, will be the ones who come up to you on the street and beg for gas money: they’re going to have to raise $15 or so to pay for four gallons’ worth.

Comments (7)




Gimme back my internal combustion

Our highly valued reader canadienne recently mentioned on these pages the joy of Tesla, as experienced by Model S owner Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, prompting this complaint:

It’s an entertaining story even though I disagree with just about everything he says, mostly on account of the price tag, but also on the basis of it can’t be a real car because it doesn’t have a real engine and it doesn’t burn gasoline, but that’s just my 60 years of being in thrall to the American automobile industry. (I’m not sure ‘thrall’ is the right word, but work with me here, alright?)

See also Jagger, M., “He can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me.”

And these people are getting away with murder, or at least with tax evasion:

Electric cars don’t use gasoline, therefore their owners don’t buy any gasoline, which means they aren’t paying any road use taxes! Unfair! Strike! Strike! Strike! If there were more than 2 or 3 of these things on the road this argument might carry some weight, but as it stands I find it hard to get worked up over it. After my initial outrage, anyway.

The real problem, however, is farther up the road:

The biggest problem with electric cars is that if they become successful they are going to make entire industries obsolete, which is going to throw more people out of work. Yes, new industries require new workers, but we see how well that has been working out. Not. If anything we need to go back to mechanical lifters so you would need to get your valves adjusted monthly, which would put a whole boat load of people to work, but then some wise guy would invent self-adjusting lifters and that would be the end of that. Oh, wait, that’s where we are now.

Of course, in the days when you had to take a shim to an offending lifter on a regular basis, we had a lot of people who actually knew how to do that. Today we trust our maintenance, such as it is, to a minimum-wage guy at the Spee-D-Loob, and we pester the clerks at AutoZone to come read our codes because we’d rather spend $500 for randomly selected parts we think hope will fix the problem than spend $120 for an hour’s worth of dealership diagnosis.

(My own automobile has twenty-four valves, and it takes about three and a half hours to check their clearance. I figure I’ll need this somewhere around the 200,000-mile mark.)

Comments (2)




Run-flatulent tires extra

The three-wheeler from Elio Motors, due next spring, has some interesting specifications:

Its first vehicle in development is a three-wheeled model (two wheels in front, one in back) with a planned fuel efficiency of 84 mpg (US) (2.8 L/100 km) on the highway and to retail for US$6,800. Standard features would include air conditioning, power windows, and stereo. It would seat two (one in front, one in back) with 3 airbags and a reinforced roll cage. Company executives predict that it will receive a 5-star safety rating. Although it will be fully enclosed like a standard automobile, its three-wheel design falls under US government classifications as a motorcycle. The design features three-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, an inline 3-cylinder, 60 horsepower (45 kW) engine, and front-wheel drive, with a top speed of over 100 mph (160 km/h), accelerating from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in about 9.6 seconds.

And it’s more environmentally friendly than cow farts:

One cow produces 242 lbs of methane a year through burps and flatulence. Methane traps 20 times more heat than CO2 over a 100-year period. (SOURCE: Get Green Living) In a year, the average cow will emit 4,840 lbs of CO2 equivalent greenhouses gases. Elio Motors vehicle, driven 20,000 miles, will only emit only 4,500 lbs of CO2.

Hell of a selling point, am I right?

Elio will be building this contraption at the old GM Shreveport Assembly plant, former home of the Chevrolet Colorado and the Hummer H3.

Comments off




Sun tax error

Roger sent me this, and I imagine he was shaking his head as he read it:

Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.

You can read the measure in its current form here. This is how I replied to Roger:

I admit to not knowing what Ann Griffin was up to when she wrote that bill. (Most Republicans in the OK Senate have at least decent ratings from the Sierra Club; Griffin rates a 93% on their scale.)

The bill provides for a surcharge limited to “that required to recover the full costs necessary to serve customers who install distributed generation on the customer side of the meter after the effective date of this act,” which date is the first of November. However, it also expects the utilities to determine the amount of those costs, and implement the appropriate tariffs by the end of 2015. Typically, a tariff has to be approved by the Corporation Commission, and they will generally open a period of public comment before issuing a decision. So this may not be the done-est of deals.

And I’m thinking that, once actually imposed, this fee will probably be on the same scale as what I pay to support the state’s first wind farm. Ten years ago, it was a buck and a quarter a month; revised tariffs make it a bit more variable, but my most recent electric bill, for $56.95, included a “net wind cost” of $3.39. I’m betting they ask for about twice that, and the Corp Comm will approve half of it, and everybody will pretend to be happy.

Comments (3)




An inline something-or-other

Toyota is showing off a couple of new engines, designed to be downright miserly with precious fuelstuffs. Here’s some of the release:

One of the engines is a 1.3-liter gasoline engine in which Toyota is employing the Atkinson cycle — normally used in dedicated hybrid engines. Use of the Atkinson cycle provides an increased expansion ratio and reduces waste heat through a high compression ratio (13.5), resulting in superior thermal efficiency. Toyota aims to further improve the fuel efficiency of the engine by utilizing other innovations including an intake port with a new shape that generates a strong tumble flow (whereby the air-fuel mixture flows in a vertical swirl) inside the cylinder, and a cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system paired with Variable Valve Timing-intelligent Electric (VVT-iE) technology to improve combustion and reduce loss.

Pretty neat, if it works, and I tend not to bet against Toyota. The other engine is even smaller:

[A] 1.0-liter engine jointly developed with Daihatsu Motor Co., Ltd. has achieved maximum thermal efficiency of 37 percent due to a similar tumble flow-generating intake port, a cooled EGR system, and a high compression ratio. Combination with the idling-stop function and various other fuel consumption reduction technologies allows vehicles to achieve a maximum fuel efficiency improvement of approximately 30 percent over current vehicles.

The 1.3, they say, will reach 38 percent. Most of us out here in the old Teeming Milieu are getting 20 percent, maybe.

Still, there’s one thing I want to know that Toyota for some reason didn’t put in their press release: How many cylinders? Eventually, Cameron Miquelon at TTAC ferreted out the numbers: the bigger engine has four cylinders, the smaller one three. Not entirely unpredictable, perhaps, but you’d think Toyota would be telling us this up front.

Comments off




Meters unread

I’m going with the notion that no other explanation is needed:

Everywhere I’ve lived, paying the power bill was a relatively simple affair. You get a bill that included the amount of power you used in the previous month with a per-kilowatt charge and some basic flat monthly fee.

Here, however, they do not read the power meter every month. Instead, it’s every other month with some sort of estimate. These estimates tend to be wildly, wildly off. The end result of which is that our power bill ranges from one month to the next wildly. By a factor of two, in the most recent case. From $169 to $345. In this case, the estimate for February was low but in fact, the usage was abnormally high due to the weather. The end result was a low bill followed by a large bill.

Hmmm. Is this a private utility company, or a municipal power plant?

If they can’t actually send somebody to read the meter every month, they could do a lot worse than just saying $210 every month. Theoretically, they should have access to data that can more accurately guess how much we’re actually using. I assume that every month they’re reading houses, it’s just that they can only read half of them in any given month.

This is one of the better arguments for the so-called smart meter, which presumably can report in with its own reading when called upon. Both the electric and gas companies have installed them on my connections; I don’t think the city has, but then I haven’t opened up the meter, buried in the front yard, since about three plumbing repairs ago.

Comments (6)




The bulb report

For each of the past six weeks, I have picked up a four-pack of 60-watt incandescent bulbs at the grocery store, which gives me a reserve of 24. (Actually 26, since I had two on hand at the beginning.) As of the first of January, these small and inoffensive creatures have been marked for extinction by the haters in Washington, so I made a point of stopping by the appropriate shelf at the store this afternoon.

The shelf was about four packages short of full, which is about where it always has been, so it’s too early to make any sort of prediction. (Most of them were branded Philips, with a single row of Westinghouse.) If, as has been suggested, the industry Big Boys themselves pushed for the extinction of incandescents, well, they haven’t made a great deal of headway at getting the spendy stuff into this store: there were plenty of off-brand CFLs going for about a third less than the GE-branded twirlers, and LEDs were conspicuous by their absence. Then again, this particular store draws mainly lower-income customers, who are not likely to be looking for ten-dollar bulbs.

On hand: 26 60-watt incandescents; two 40-watt decorative (for the bathroom); two three-way, 30/70/100; one CFL. (In use: three decorative; three three-way; three CFLs; two LEDs; the rest are incandescents, except for the floods outside.)

Comments (12)




The unintentional hypermiler

McGehee is trying to give the impression that he’s being lulled into submission by a dashboard fuel-economy gauge:

It shows an accumulating average MPG since the last reset, as well as an estimated range on the current fuel level (this after almost ten years without a fuel gauge in the Bronco) and a realtime graph displaying the current MPG based on current fuel consumption and actual motion, with a marker showing where the current average is so you can see whether you’re improving your average or undercutting it.

I famously eschew these things: I figure, not unreasonably, that if I start paying attention to such matters, it will affect my driving, and not in any positive way. This is why I reset the B trip meter every time I gas up — and then switch back to the A meter so I don’t have to look at it. (I usually use the A meter for Miles Since Last Oil Change, which is currently about 730.)

Besides, I’m not the only one who doesn’t necessarily benefit by the standard fuel-saving techniques:

I am also finding that my idea of best driving — conditions and practices both — seems to be about the thriftiest way to drive there is. I wouldn’t have expected this, mainly because my idea of best driving is solely a matter of temperament rather than conscious frugality.

I’ve beaten the EPA numbers on my last three vehicles, by a small margin according to the original stickers, and by a hell of a lot according to the 2008 recalculations. Gwendolyn, say the Feds, should get 17 in the city and 25 on the highway; I think I’ve had two tanks under 20 mpg in the last seven years. Keep in mind that this car is 13 years old and has run nearly 150,000 miles. Then again, I am not known for stinting on maintenance.

Comments off




Fueling concerns

If you think things here are being run into the ground, you might want to keep in mind that there is incompetence and venality beyond even the Washington standard. Look, for example, at Caracas. Leopoldo Martínez, leader of the Venezuelan opposition, wrote in the WSJ this week:

According to his government’s own figures, inflation currently stands at 54%, the highest in the Americas. Much as Chávez did, Mr. [Nicolás] Maduro has plundered Venezuela’s oil industry, which accounts for 95% of export earnings, by providing billions of dollars in oil subsidies to Cuba and other regime allies. Despite the regime’s much trumpeted commitment to wealth redistribution, the country is plagued by shortages of basic goods like cooking oil, milk and corn flour, while concerns over a government debt default have led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the country’s credit rating to B-.

B-minus? Even Illinois is better than that.

(WSJ extract courtesy of Fausta’s blog.)

One of those oil subsidies is reserved for the Venezuelan public:

The idea of Venezuelans paying more for gasoline was first floated in early December, when Vice President Jorge Arreaza said it was time start discussing raising gas prices. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said that the country having the world’s cheapest gas wasn’t a point of pride. Finally, last week Maduro himself said he favored gradually raising prices over three years.

“As an oil nation, Venezuelans should have a special price advantage for hydrocarbons compared to the international market,” the former bus driver told newly elected mayors on Dec. 18. “But it has to be an advantage, not a disadvantage. What converts it into a disadvantage is when the tip you give is more than what it cost to fill the tank.”

There are “special price advantages,” and then there is this: a gallon of gas costs about 90 cents in Kuwait, about 50 cents in Saudi Arabia — and about five cents in Venezuela, a price which has remained relatively constant for a decade and a half. There is, of course, a reason for that:

In 1989 the price of gasoline was raised, prompting deadly rioting that went on for days and killed over 300 people.

“Well, yeah,” some will cry, “but they have free health care.” Not so fast, Chucky.

Comments (3)




Draft resistance

Green Canary is hoping for something resembling heat — preferably from the actual sun, which doesn’t cost so much:

I’ve been keeping my thermostat at 68, which isn’t my preferred indoor temperature during the cold winter months. During the cold winter months, I prefer the balmy warmth of the upper 70s. But since I am still getting to know my house, I didn’t want to press her too hard right out the gate. Also, I was afraid of a ginormous electric bill that would break my tough gal exterior and turn me into a quivering mess of unset Jell-o.

Month one’s electric bill was a lovely $13.05.

Month two’s electric bill was a hideous $178.97.

Explanations were not hard to find:

My house is not large, so there is absolutely no reason why my electric bill should be so high. Except that my not-large house is also not-efficient, what with the 33 year-old wood windows with the cracked seals, the uninsulated basement walls, and the odd draft coming from the doorknob on my back door. All of those very logical heat-sucking factors aside, there is also the much bigger problem that I have barely scratched the surface of: I think the problem is the heat pump itself.

The nice thing about hardware problems, in general, is that they can be addressed by writing a check. Then again, I know something less than squat about heat pumps; I can just about comprehend my gas furnace (expected gas bill for December: $95), and I’ll have been here ten years come Tuesday.

Comments off




For lack of a proper drinking game

We are maxed out on this whole ethanol scheme, says the EPA:

The US Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that a “blend wall” has been reached for motor fuels with 10% ethanol as it released its proposed 2014 biofuel quotas under the federal Renewable Fuels Standard.

“Production of renewable fuels has been growing rapidly in recent years,” it said in its Nov. 15 announcement. “At the same time, advances in vehicle fuel economy and other economic factors have pushed gasoline consumption far lower than what was expected when Congress passed the [RFS] in 2007.

“As a result, we are now at the ‘E10 blend wall’, the point at which the E10 fuel pool is saturated with ethanol,” it continued. “If gasoline demand continues to decline, as currently forecast, continuing growth in the use of ethanol will require greater use of higher ethanol blends such as E15 and E85.”

Faced with these numbers, EPA decided, not actually to cut the quotas, but to suggest an increase in the lower half of the proposed range, presumably in an effort not to tick off the people who make money off ethanol. It did not work:

Brooke Coleman, the Advanced Ethanol Council’s executive director, noted: “While only a proposed rule at this point, this is the first time that the Obama administration has shown any sign of wavering when it comes to implementing the RFS. What we’re seeing is the oil industry taking one last run at trying to convince administrators of the RFS to relieve the legal obligation on them to blend more biofuel based on clever arguments meant to disguise the fact that oil companies just don’t want to blend more biofuel. The RFS is designed to bust the oil monopoly. It’s not going to be easy.”

Shorter Brooke Coleman: “It’s after Halloween, but dammit, we’re entitled to a permanent candy ration!”

Of course, I had to go hunt down a quote from Bob Dinneen, the addled head of the Renewable Fuels Association, and the one good thing about Dinneen is that he picks up his cues on time:

“We’re all just sort of scratching our heads here today and wondering why this administration is telling us to burn less of a clean-burning American fuel.”

Call me when you start pushing for natural gas, Bob. Not only is it right up there on the “clean” scale, but nobody actually eats it. Or maybe you could team up with Michael Jacobson of CSPI and build an engine that runs on Slurpees.

Comments (3)




Easily LED

Several of this house’s light fixtures are inclined to give me grief, though the one most likely to give me grief at a moment’s notice is the two-bulb fixture over the kitchen sink: it has a neat and tidy design — the lower 15 percent of a sphere — which allows for a reasonable illumination pattern but which allows considerable heat buildup, and it fastens with three twist-screws, none of them placed favorably unless you’re two feet tall and can actually stand in the sink.

The advice given last decade was to replace the garden-variety 60-watt bulbs with 8-watt CFLs, which use so much less electricity that there’s just no excuse for not using them. An excuse promptly presented itself: CFLs in this installation lasted about five percent longer than the Standard Bulbs despite costing ten times as much. Must be the heat locked up in that hemidemisemiglobe, I reasoned, and reinstated the classic bulbs, grumbling all the way at having to climb that ladder yet again.

When one of them died on a Sunday afternoon — a dark Sunday afternoon an hour before sunset, of course — I escalated to LightCon 3, installing a pair of funky-looking but still bulb-shaped LED lights, with approximately the same brightness — 800 lumens — and 12-watt power consumption. Color temperature, at 3000°K, is slightly higher (therefore less “warm” — go figure), and assuming three hours’ usage a day, these critters are supposed to last eight years. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to last eight years. The manufacturer, in his wisdom, provides a five-year warranty. And at least if these go, I don’t have to call a farging hazmat team.

Comments (9)




It isn’t even algebra

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over Common Core curriculum, including fear that the students will never actually learn how to do math before leaving school. Then again, you could make a case that it’s already too late:

I get about 14 miles to the gallon on the highway 318 engine. How much money will it cost me to Travel 1,495 miles Average gas is $3,50 a gallon

This is, or used to be, fourth-grade stuff. (Answer: $373.75.) And what the hell is he driving? An old Dodge pickup?

Comments (5)




Instanter incentive

From two weeks ago:

I expected to find premium for $3.299, and sure enough, that’s what it said on the pump.

There were signs all over the place promoting V-Power, Shell’s version of premium, which was nothing unusual. What I didn’t expect was the pump to reset itself to $3.249 before I started.

On the bottom of the receipt tape: “You received 5cpg off today’s purchase just for buying Shell V-Power! Shell V-Power actively cleans for better performance.”

I hit that same Shell station yesterday, and V-Power was posted at $3.119, a decided improvement. I went through the usual opening ritual — slide card, press buttons — and the price reset to $3.069 before I even selected a grade. Evidently Shell remembers what I buy. (Regular, if you’re curious, was posted at $2.799.)

Comments (2)