Archive for Family Joules

Existence on the margins

A gas station in northern Virginia explains how that $2.85 for a gallon of unleaded breaks down:

My one surviving brother, who runs a convenience store in the Texas Hill Country, has confirmed the profit margin, such as it is, on several occasions.

I’d like to see more of these around the country. The numbers will change slightly — except for the Federal excise tax, which is a constant 18.4 cents per gallon for now — but the overall breakdown would be about the same.

(Via Lisa De Pasquale.)

Comments (2)

The Gas Game (rebooted)

Last year about this time, I signed up for Oklahoma Natural Gas’s Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan, which guaranteed me a price of $5.349 per dekatherm no matter what the spot price might be. Since I pay only cursory attention to the spot price — and since ONG’s gas contracts can date to pretty much anywhere in the calendar — I have no good way of knowing how the Plan is going to work out a year in advance, so it’s pretty much a crapshoot based on a gut instinct, and let us not mix that metaphor further.

Spot price, as it happens, is hovering around $3. This means that at any given moment, ONG’s gas supply can be billed at anywhere from $2.99 to about twice that. This year’s Fixed Price offering is $3.751 for twelve months, which I’m going to take, based on last year’s experience:

Last winter [2013-14], 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.

Exclusive of all those taxes and charges and fees, 12.3 Dth would be $15-20 cheaper still. And spending less, I submit, has a great deal to recommend it.


Wielder of the monkey wrench

Author Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches and two sequels) finds herself sitting in the dark:

“Power poles and lines down”? That’s some big damn animal.

It gets weirder. Reports the SCE Outage Center:

As we continue to improve, will be undergoing maintenance starting at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 17 through 6 a.m. on Friday, September 18. Please note that during this time you will not be able to view pages and will be unable to complete transactions. Thanks for your patience while we work to improve your experience!

No comment from Mr. Edison himself, though reports from outside his home in West Orange, New Jersey suggest that he’s doing about 1200 rpm.

Comments (1)

Negative charge

There are plenty of people in the area served by Public Service Company of Oklahoma who don’t want those damn newfangled meters, and PSO plans to apply a little, um, persuasion:

PSO won approval from the commission in April to charge customers an extra $3.11 per month to install more than 520,000 smart meters throughout its service territory in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma.

The utility now wants the commission to approve a one-time charge of $183 and monthly fees of $28 for customers who wish to opt out of the smart meter program. The one-time charge would rise to $261 when PSO finishes the rollout of its smart meters.

An Oklahoman editorial says the fees are reasonably debatable. Some of the other objections, maybe not so much, according to one study:

[B]efore smart meters were installed, electrical distribution equipment was associated with residential fires in just 0.4 percent of cases. Following smart meter installation, that figure fell as low as 0.1 percent in 2012 and never went higher than 0.4 percent in subsequent years.

In comparison, cooking was the cause of residential fires in 29 percent of cases in 2011 and 2012, and 34.5 percent of cases in 2013 and 2014. Smoking was the culprit in approximately 17 percent of fires both before and after smart meter installation.

Heaven help you if you smoke while you’re cooking.

I have a smart meter, installed in early 2011. It seems to run up numbers just as fast as the old device with the dials and everything. My major concern — that it would interfere with WiFi in the household — has not materialized.


Light comedy

Who else, I ask you, brings you this much personal experience on the subject of light bulbs?

Last year, reader backwoods conservative observed:

What is recommended for garage doors is rough service bulbs. They have more supports for the filament and therefore do not break so easily. The bulb itself is often made stronger to be less prone to breakage. The information I have is that rough service bulbs are exempt from the new standards and will still be allowed. They are more expensive, but I hear they hold up very well.

I haven’t changed a bulb in the garage-door opener in a decade, and I am loath to start now. That said, a few weeks back the supermarket had a box of off-brand “rough-service” bulbs for a not-unreasonable price — three bucks for four bulbs — and I decided to give them a shot in some other applications.

And in those cases, the results were decidedly meh: the bulbs seem sturdy enough, and design life is no worse than other incandescents, but this particular series is rated at a meager 500 lumens, about a third less than one gets from the usual 60-watt classic. I would have known this, of course, had I bothered to read the actual box; it’s not like this little detail is hidden away.

Meanwhile, this little contretemps was taking place in the kitchen:

[T]he hemidemisemiglobe, apparently insufficiently tightened down, yielded to the force of gravity, forcing me into Shard Removal mode. Results: fairly unsightly. On the upside, it’s a hell of a lot brighter in there, and now the freaking CFLs ought to work better, so long as I don’t actually replace the glass.

As it happens, I didn’t have any freaking CFLs in there, as they died entirely too quickly in the fixture with that glass dome in place. When one of the two 60-watt classics died last week, I wearily dragged out the stepladder, ascended to the heights, dismounted both incandescents, and installed two 20-watt CFLs, billed as the equivalent of 75-watters, which were not recommended for this fixture because, um, heat. Let’s see ’em get more than moderately warm without a big glass ball surrounding ’em. Further upside: 2400 lumens instead of 1600. Downside: it’s much easier to see how much the kitchen floor (white tile) needs a good mopping.

Comments (3)

A solution crashes into place

A rueful observation from a couple of years ago:

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.

And there things stood until yesterday afternoon, when the ground, or at least the walls, shook a bit, and the hemidemisemiglobe, apparently insufficiently tightened down, yielded to the force of gravity, forcing me into Shard Removal mode. Results: fairly unsightly. On the upside, it’s a hell of a lot brighter in there, and now the freaking CFLs ought to work better, so long as I don’t actually replace the glass. God only knows what it would take to put a less-intractable fixture up there.

Nick Lowe, incidentally, was not available for comment, but I’m pretty sure I know what he would say.


What a re-Leaf it is

A spent battery pack from a Nissan Leaf isn’t dead: while it may not have enough juice left to move a ton and a half of electric car, it’s still a viable storage device, which explains this scheme:

Instead of building fresh batteries for commercial stationary applications, Nissan will instead reuse lithium-ion batteries from the LEAF with partner Green Charge Networks.

The first application “will be installed at a Nissan facility this summer, where multiple Nissan LEAF batteries will be configured to offset peak electricity demand,” said Nissan.

Your air conditioner is already smiling, right?

“A lithium-ion battery from a Nissan LEAF still holds a great deal of value as energy storage, even after it is removed from the vehicle, so Nissan expects to be able to reuse a majority of LEAF battery packs in non-automotive applications,” said Brad Smith, director of Nissan’s 4R Energy business.

Which is better than pitching them into whatever other post-automotive hell exists.

The battery pack, new, is good for 24 kWh; Nissan considers it usable for automotive purposes if 75 percent is available. So recently-culled battery packs should be just below 18 kWh or so, which is a fair amount of juice.


Over several barrels

Only the nittiest of nitwits will claim to be able to forecast the price of oil more than a few hours in advance. That said, this is supposedly OPEC’s thinking on the matter:

Those hoping for a return to $100 per barrel of oil are in for a long wait, as OPEC says oil will remain below the price point through the 2020s.

A report by the group forecasts oil will trade for around $76/barrel in 2025 under optimistic conditions, The Wall Street Journal reports, with $40/barrel under more dire straits. The forecasts take into account the group’s competitors in the United States coping through low prices amid increased production.

To combat this, the report recommends OPEC return to the production-quota system it ditched in 2011 amid conflict over how much each member state would be allowed to produce.

A system, you may remember, which was honored mostly in the breach, hence the ditching.

Myself, I prefer to stick with the mildly alarmist viewpoint: there’s only about 10 years’ worth of oil left on the planet, and there always will be.


Running on vapor

The Elio Motors three-wheeler, to borrow an old phrase, is the car of the future, and it always will be. I mentioned the little ultra-econobox last year, and quoted its ship date as “next spring.” It’s not going to happen in the next eighty days, guys.

Still, Paul Elio is thinking from a place where you can’t even see the box, and his scheme for financing sales of the carlet is crazy enough that it might actually work:

To encourage sales, Elio said the company has a plan to make the Elio trike extra affordable called “Let Your Gas Savings Make Your Payments.” Under this plan, when you buy an Elio, you drive away with a special credit card in your pocket. You use this card every time you gas up and then Elio charges you triple what you paid at the pump. So, if your gas costs $10 (remember, this is an 84 mpg car, so you’re not paying a lot at the pump), then your total cost to Elio will be $30. The extra $20 is applied to your loan payment. “As long as you drove into the dealership with something that was 27 mpg or less, your monthly fuel bill will go down,” Elio said. “Three times 27 is 81 and we get 84. So, you got a brand-new vehicle under warranty that’s fun to drive and you don’t have a car payment and you’re guaranteed to spend less on gas.”

Still, even at Elio’s rock-bottom (and possibly unattainable) price of $6800, it would take over ten years to pay off the note at $84 a month, after which time the vehicle will be neither brand new or (presumably) under warranty.

Comments (7)

Worldwide poultry

“Get ready for $10 oil,” says A. Gary Shilling at Bloomberg View, and he’s not kidding:

What is the price at which major producers chicken out and slash output? Whatever that price is, it is much lower than the $125 a barrel Venezuela needs to support its mismanaged economy. The same goes for Ecuador, Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran and Angola.

Saudi Arabia requires a price of more than $90 to fund its budget. But it has $726 billion in foreign currency reserves and is betting it can survive for two years with prices of less than $40 a barrel.

Furthermore, the price when producers chicken out isn’t necessarily the average cost of production, which for 80 percent of new U.S. shale oil production this year will be $50 to $69 a barrel, according to Daniel Yergin of energy consultant IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Instead, the chicken-out point is the marginal cost of production, or the additional costs after the wells are drilled and the pipes are laid. Another way to think of it: It’s the price at which cash flow for an additional barrel falls to zero.

Last month, Wood Mackenzie, an energy research organization, found that of 2,222 oil fields surveyed worldwide, only 1.6 percent would have negative cash flow at $40 a barrel. That suggests there won’t be a lot of chickening out at $40. Keep in mind that the marginal cost for efficient U.S. shale-oil producers is about $10 to $20 a barrel in the Permian Basin in Texas and about the same for oil produced in the Persian Gulf.

Which is not to say that there might not be creatures other than poultry in this farmyard: we still don’t know what effect ISIS will have on the Iraqi oil fields, and it’s been suggested more than once that ISIS’ major goal on the way to Caliphate is to knock out the Saudi royals. Not that we should be shedding any tears for Riyadh, of course.

(Via Fausta, who notes that Venezuela is already broke, and will be much, much broker with oil below $40.)

Comments (1)

The spirit of 76 octane

Bill Quick saw this before I did, and asked: “Remember when filling stations actually filled your tank for you?”

Gas station in Lincoln 1933

For a few days in my adolescence, to help out a friend, I played pump jockey. I wasn’t especially good at it, though I was dead reliable at checking tire pressures.

And yes, E10 was around in those days. (Under that “10% Blend” verbiage: “Development Means Cornbelt Prosperity.”) It never really caught on, and purveyors of the stuff eventually sought antitrust action against Ethyl, manufacturer of another, far nastier, gasoline additive.

Interestingly, this photo was taken in Lincoln, Nebraska in April 1933, eight months before the end of Prohibition. I have to wonder how much of that ethanol was diverted before it got to the gas station.

Comments (6)

Emissions beyond control

When you get right down to it, nobody burns hydrocarbons like UN climate-change types burn hydrocarbons. And the next lovefest, in Peru, will burn the most of all:

The Lima conference is expected to have the biggest carbon footprint of any U.N. climate meeting measured to date. At more than 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the negotiations’ burden on global warming will be about 1½ times the norm, said Jorge Alvarez, project coordinator for the U.N. Development Program.

The venue is one big reason. It had to be built. Eleven football fields of temporary structures arose for the 13-day negotiations from what three months ago was an empty field behind Peru’s army’s headquarters. Concrete was laid, plumbing installed, components flown in from as far as France and Brazil.

Standing in the midday sun here can get downright uncomfortable, but the Lima sun is not reliable. That’s one reason solar panels were not used. For electricity, the talks are relying exclusively on diesel generators.

They’re claiming, of course, that all this is being offset elsewhere:

Nor is there a guarantee that the 580 square miles (1,500 square kilometers) of forest — the size of Houston, Texas — offsetting the talks’ carbon pollution won’t someday be gone. It must lie unperturbed for a half century in order to neutralize carbon emitted at the conference.

By which time, of course, all these self-appointed aristocrats will be long gone and justifiably forgotten.

(Via Tim Blair.)


Dawning is the day

When this appeared in the media a couple of days ago, noises were made to the effect that we might be seeing a Whole New Era:

Gas price at OnCue, 44th and Shields

Of course, for this to be true, everyone else would have had to rush out and match this price, seen at the OnCue Express at 44th and Shields. As of today, the Duo at 59th and Blackwelder will sell you E10 at $1.999, if you’re paying cash — add a dime for plastic — and the 44 Food Mart, just east of that OnCue, has dropped to $1.989. That’s it. This is not, I shouldn’t have to point out, a Whole New Era. And GasBuddy counsels caution:

GasBuddy anticipates that some motorists in Texas, South Carolina, and Missouri may see $1.99 show up soon as well. Areas of Houston, Spartanburg, and St. Louis are the only metro areas within “striking distance” of less than 20c/gallon.

We should make clear that at this time, we do not believe any city or state will see average prices under $2/gal, but yes, a handful of stations across the United States may see these prices. Should oil prices continue to decline, as some of our analysts have predicted, it will open the door to motorists in more cities seeing a few $1.99 prices.

I’m still paying $2.619 for premium, of course.

Comments (5)

Unpleasantly steamy

The exhaust from Toyota’s new fuel-cell car, the Mirai, consists of water vapor and heat. I’m pretty sure nobody was thinking “Hey, water vapor! Let’s condense it and have a drink!” If anyone was, however, Toyota advises otherwise:

Automotive News reports the 2016 Toyota Mirai’s exhaust — consisting of water vapor and heat — may have “much fewer organic impurities” than milk, per the FCV’s fuel stack power generator designer, Seiji Mizuno, but what impurities the byproduct does have depend on what passed through the stack in the first place:

“Depending on the place you are driving, some parts of the world might have certain issues, such as organisms like E. coli, which could be hazardous to your health. You never know what the quality of the air intake is.”

Then again, knowing Toyota’s tendency to keep beavering away at these things, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a fuel-cell Sienna with an actual water fountain somewhere down the line — and customers griping about having to have the filter changed every 30,000 miles.


H2 = 0

Drivers of Hyundai’s Tucson Fuel Cell and Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell buggy will be getting actual hydrogen without having to pay for it, at least at first. This is not, you should know, a manufacturer incentive:

According to Autoblog, a seminar held at the Mirai launch regarding hydrogen revealed the fueling stations currently in place in the United States aren’t able to accurately measure how much hydrogen is pumped into a given vehicle. Without that accuracy, no FCV owner can be charged for the fuel, a problem the California Air Resources Board is working to fix. Deputy Executive Officer Alberto Ayala explains:

“If you think about it, it’s a real simple yet real practical challenge. If you’re going to pay for X amount of hydrogen, you’re actually getting that amount of hydrogen… We are at a point where we are solving multiple remaining questions [with hydrogen infrastructure], and that just happens to be one of them.”

Cynics suggest that it really doesn’t matter, since these cars exist solely to collect ZEV credits from CARB. The chemistry student I used to be notes simply that there’s more hydrogen in the universe than anything else, with the possible exception of bad ideas for reality shows: the tricky part, of course, is that none of that hydrogen is sitting around uncombined, waiting to be pumped into your fuel cell.


Selective blinders

Francisco Toro finds them in front of the faces of pipeline foes:

It’s really quite odd, Keystone XL. Think about drugs: educated people generally have no trouble seeing the hopelessness of a supply-interdiction strategy. People grasp that the War on Drugs can’t work: if you crack down on production in one place, you just fatten up the margins for producers in another. Crack down on trafficking here, and you create extra rents to trafficking over there. The “balloon theory” to explain the futility of supply-disruption policies is not in serious doubt.

And yet, suddenly, ask a gringo leftie about applying the same damn lesson to oil and everyone goes insane.

It’s a Different Religion thing. Some people who love to scoff at, for instance, some of the constructs of Christianity, have no problem buying the hilarious notion of “climate pollution.” (Short explanation: climate is neither a physical object nor a concept standing in for a physical object and therefore cannot be polluted by other physical objects. Feel free to pass this on to anyone who needs it.)

And anyway, Toro’s point is that Keystone XL would have done one thing exceedingly well: screw over the Chavistas running Venezuela. Here’s why:

If the Venezuelan government had the bandwidth to think longer term — which it manifestly doesn’t — it would grasp Keystone XL as a key strategic threat. The main reason anyone would want to take Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast is because that’s where the refineries that can handle crappy, high-sulphur, high-tar content crude are. And the whole reason they got built there in the first place is to handle Venezuelan crude. This is why Keystone XL is such an important piece of the North American Energy Independence puzzle: it’s what it takes to shut Venezuela out of the North American market.

You can’t tell me that Senate Democrats, some of whom are sympathetic to the Chávez/Maduro government, are completely unaware of this premise.

(Via Fausta’s blog.)

Comments (1)

Hairs split upon request

“Tanj on your silly game,” said Louis Wu. He wasn’t talking about California and Federal regulations, but he could have been:

I watched them brag for half an hour about spending tons of extra money on … LEED certified buildings. As written here any number of times, most LEED savings come through BS gaming of the rules, like putting in dedicated electric vehicle parking sites (that do not even need a charger to get credit). In a brief moment of honesty, the architect presenting admitted that most of the LEED score for one building came from using used rather than new furniture in the building.

It’s okay. Getting the points, and the credits accrued therefrom, is far more important than the ostensible goals of the regulators; it was always thus, and always thus it shall remain.


Energy Star-crossed

Evidently we have been conditioned to accept inferior performance in the name of energy savings:

Well, the fan system dutifully came on, but I thought, “I didn’t really hear the furnace kick on.” But then I thought that it being “high efficiency,” maybe I wouldn’t. So I waited a bit, and then felt next to one of the vents, and realized that the air blowing out of it was at best, lukewarm. But then again, I thought, “maybe that’s the way with high efficiency furnaces, and I just have to wait.”

(Funny how so many of us have been programmed to think “efficient” and “environmentally friendly” means “less comfort less quickly”)

Turns out that this wasn’t the issue with the furnace, but the programming is real. On the far side of my office is a Kyocera laser printer, picked up by the sysadmin for a ridiculously low price — in fact, I think he got it off Woot — which is utterly dedicated to keeping its energy consumption down, and it doesn’t care how long you have to wait for a single freaking page to print. Once it’s oozed down into “Sleeping” mode, you can count on a minimum of half a minute before the paper emerges from the dark cavern.

And actually, it’s a pretty good printer, hard to break — I’ve managed to snatch it back twice from what appeared to be its death throes — but the cleaning instructions are inscrutable at best, and running a test page after cleaning takes, yes, a minimum of half a minute.

Comments (1)

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