Archive for Family Joules

Presumably at premium prices

Wefuel is an app (iOS only so far) that enables the stranded or lazy (or both) driver to have gasoline delivered to wherever his vehicle happens to be, assuming that it’s in their service area. For now, it’s strictly a San Francisco Bay area thing, but if it finds customers, it’s sure to expand.

I’m not quite sure what I think of this. I am far more often lazy than stranded, but I have a schedule structured enough to hit up a Shell every other week. (Road trips aside, I drive maybe 7,000 miles a year.) On the one hand, I have to agree with Pete Bigelow of Autoblog:

There are two kinds of people: those who like to save money and those who like to save time. Wefuel will appeal to the latter. The app lets workers fuel up while sitting at their desks rather than adding time to their commutes. It allows them to plan for the road trip without making a special trip to the gas station to fill up.

Then again, I can also see the point being made by Sebastian Blanco of Autoblog:

Wefuel is the epitome of Silicon Valley nonsense. No one needs this (emergencies excluded), but now some people will want it. Silicon Valley wants us to think that our phones will solve all of our problems, but when that “solution” means that you get lazier and someone else does your work for you while adding extra pollution to the air, that’s an easy pass. Still, it makes someone else do your work for you, so Wefuel will undoubtedly be a tremendous hit.

Wait a minute. Our phones won’t solve all of our problems?

I’m thinking, we don’t flinch at paying $3 (plus a tip) to have $30 worth of pizza delivered. I’m pretty sure we won’t flinch at paying something comparably nominal for $30 worth of gas. And now I wonder if they can do custom octane blends.

If this premise has any possibility of hitting it big, there should be a rival, right? Here it comes.

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You say you have more than one room?

I swear by the antique Honeywell Eyeball thermostat, one of which I’ve lived with for at least half my life, including twelve years here at Surlywood. It is not programmable in the least, unless you consider twisting its dial a form of programming. But the newer ones that talk to your smartphone suffer from one of the same limitations as the Eyeball:

[T]hey only measure temperature in one spot. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if you had only one room in your home, but chances are your house is a little bit bigger. If you do have a home with more than one room, you inevitably have hot and cold spots.

Yea, verily. My bedroom (with windows on three walls, mind you) is about 2°F warmer than the rest of the house in the summer, 2°F cooler in the winter. If I were sufficiently exercised about this to want to do something about it, there’s this contraption:

I’m not sure I want a thermostat so smart that it knows when I’ve moved from the office to the bedroom and tweaks the system accordingly, but rampant gadget-happiness might counteract at least some of my paranoia.

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Holy flurking low-octane schnitt

This needs no introduction:

Never mind what I paid for it, several hundred miles away.

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Unearned earnings

Believe it or not, there are those who will simply not accept such things:

I expect some readers to have to tweak their Suspension of Disbelief glands to be able to grasp all this.

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Bulbs for the future

And they’re incandescent, as God and Tom Edison intended:

Scientists in the US believe they have come up with a solution which could see a reprieve for incandescent bulbs.

Researchers at MIT have shown that by surrounding the filament with a special crystal structure in the glass they can bounce back the energy which is usually lost in heat, while still allowing the light through.

They refer to the technique as “recycling light” because the energy which would usually escape into the air is redirected back to the filament where it can create new light.

“It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted,” said Professor Marin Soljacic.

You’d get your colors back, too:

Traditional incandescent bulbs have a “colour rendering index” rating of 100, because they match the hue of objects seen in natural daylight. However even “warm” finish LED or florescent bulbs can only manage an index rating of 80 and most are far less.

And you might even get the goddamn Gaians off your case, too:

Usually traditional light bulbs are only about five per cent efficient, with 95 percent of the energy being lost to the atmosphere. In comparison LED or florescent bulbs manage around 14 percent efficiency. But the scientists believe that the new bulb could reach efficiency levels of 40 percent.

No estimated price was given, but my immediate reaction was “Twenty bucks each? Gimme a dozen.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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Screwy at both ends

The Sippican Cottage experience with the compact fluorescent light bulb:

We ran out of 60 watters, and I unwisely took a flyer on some CFLs, which I detest. There was one CFL in my house when I moved in. It was in my basement. In January, that light bulb doesn’t come on, period, so I find it amusing to picture it outside, where it is occasionally 20 below zero. Not coming on does save energy, one must admit.

So, as I was saying, we were finally out of 60s, and we bought curlicues this summer. The first CFL I tried, the very first, I dropped, it shattered, and I freebased mercury for five minutes. How eco. The second one we put in my older son’s table lamp, and the base of the bulb caught fire, real fire with flames and smoke and whatnot. He calmly unplugged the lamp, came down the stairs with the thing still smouldering, and we freebased burning plastic together for five minutes. How eco. We’re all done with CFLs now.

Anything proclaimed as being good for you that requires a hazmat team to clean up after is not, no matter what they say, good for you.

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Keeping the sun on the straight and narrow

A planned solar farm in rural North Carolina has been axed:

The Woodland Town Council rejected a proposal to rezone a section of land north of town to M2 (manufacturing) from RA (residential/agricultural), essentially denying approval of a solar farm.

The Planning Board had recommended the property be rezoned to allow Strata Solar Company to build a solar farm off U.S. Highway 258.

Citizens assembled took a dim view of the facility and its prospects:

Jane Mann said she is a local native and is concerned about the plants that make the community beautiful.

She is a retired Northampton science teacher and is concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the plants from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where the plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight.

She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn’t cause cancer.

Apparently fear of diverting sunlight is a thing in this part of the Tar Heel State:

Bobby Mann said he watched communities dry up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms.

“You’re killing your town,” he said. “All the young people are going to move out.”

He said the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.

The facility would be outside town limits, so there would be no particular gain to Woodland, though the town was offered $7000 a year to pay for fire-department training in solar-energy emergencies.

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Not quite off the grid

Old friend Dan Lovejoy (see this, for example) explains why distributed generation isn’t the cure-all everyone says it is:

People are going to be putting in their own solar panels left and right, which will definitely cut their power bills. But it won’t necessarily help with reliability. While photovoltaic (PV) solar power is getting cheaper and cheaper, battery prices are falling more slowly. And you really need a battery, a smart inverter which functions as a voltage source (if your battery does not) and solar PV to weather even a short outage. That’s right, solar panels on your house don’t work during a power outage. Crazy, I know, but you need all of the equipment I listed above to island from the grid in the event of an outage. (Actually, you don’t need solar at all if you have charged batteries during a short outage. But it makes sense to couple batteries with solar.)

(Emphasis added.) This is the first use I’ve seen of “island” as a verb.

Now in our latest Oklahoma ice storm, you wouldn’t have fared very well, even with a great solar/battery/inverter system because the days are short and it was mostly raining. But, you ask, what about wind power? Residential scale wind produces very little power, so that wouldn’t power much more than your TV. Also, it wasn’t windy over Thanksgiving.

Hardly renewable if it isn’t newable in the first place, am I right?

Still, in the absence of Cool New Stuff, people are screaming for all the power lines to be buried. I’m guessing I could get my line relocated underground for about $1000. The local utility has 800,000 customers, probably not all of whom can get their lines relocated underground for about $1000.

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Bruiser-class

This started out as a legitimate inquiry:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: What MPG does a 2004 Ford Expedition get?

And then it went downhill quickly:

Looking to buy an SUV and came across an ad for a 2004 Ford Expedition XLT NBX 5.4L 4WD. The first thing I wondered was what is it’s MPG? Online says it gets 14/18, but the same source says my Dakota gets 12/17 and it averages 16 mpg around town. I am hoping there is somebody out there who has/had one and knows the exact MPG … or what you get at least.

Anyone who believes there is such a thing as “exact MPG” deserves to get single-digit mileage. Or worse.

Incidentally, fueleconomy.gov reports 12/16, so I have no idea what this character means by “online.”

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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.)

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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.

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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, SCE.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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