Archive for the ‘gas’ Category

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Could government green buying simulate the economy?

November 21, 2008

The Daily Kos (and other places too) recommended the government replace it’s mamoth fleet of ICE cars with Chevy Volts instead of dumping a huge bailout in their laps.  That would 1) stimulate the demand for US hybrids, 2) support the automaker with legitimate revenue, and 3) improve the government fleet’s MPG.

I’ve an advocate of this approach to promoting green tech (see my earlier post about School Solar) because it allows markets to develop.  Unfortunately, the companies most likely to have solutions are not equipped to navigate the bureaucracy need to do business with the government.  For example, Texas has funds to install solar at school but the money goes unspent because solar installers are not on school bid lists!

Here are 10 programs that would generate more tax revenue (to pay off ill conceived bailouts) and/or simulate critical US technology sectors:

  1. carbon tax (gas is cheap now, let’s act before people forget about high prices)
  2. convert trucks to natural gas (ala T Boone Pickens)
  3. energy neutral for schools and military bases in 5 years
  4. require national time-of-use billing by utilities including tax-by-time-of-use
  5. national passenger rail on dedicated tracks – free up freight lines for freight and make passenger trains faster
  6. nuclear plant design standardization & construction
  7. implement LED lighting in all government buildings (not those toxic CFLs!)
  8. legislate tele-commuting / commuting carbon footprint reduction
  9. enable cities to implement pay for car entry policies
  10. eliminate corn ethanol as a fuel
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What would it take to eliminate imported oil?

November 8, 2008

I was talking with my neighbor about potential increases in gas tax and her initial reaction was a strong “oh no!  That would be horrible for the economy.”  I pointed out that we’re importing 70% of our oil (ref: T. Boone Pickens & Hot, Flat & Crowded) and that means huge amounts of our currency is leaving the US and going to hostile countries.  I was impressed with how much that single point resonated with her.  Just that one item and her attitude completely changed into maybe gas taxes that discouraged use and kept $$ in the US would be a good thing for the economy.

So I started thinking about what life with 80% less* gas would look like for typical American consumers.  We would have to:

  • Work from home 4 days a week (1 vs 5 = 80% saved)
  • Carpool with 4 other people (1 vs 5 = 80% saved)
  • Go shopping twice a month instead of twice a week (2 vs 8 = 75% saved)
  • Car pool 5 kids per car to soccer games / scout trips / etc (3 cars instead of 15 = 66% saved)
  • Kids ride the school bus (fuzzier math, 1 bus = 30 cars but 20% efficient is 1/30/20% = 1/6 = 83% saved)
  • Bike or walk to coffee shop
  • Combine 10 shopping trips into a single trip
  • Drive or train for vacation instead of fly
  • Take a train instead of fly for next business trip
  • Use public transit to attend sports events

So of these changes could be made pretty easy if we slowed down our lifestyle, but telecommuting 80% would be a major change!  One benefit, less traffic!

* I picked 80% gas because some users cannot reduce this radically (like farming) so everyone else has to make up the difference!  80% or a 1/5 is also handy for math.

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T. Boone Pickins makes point, but disappoints

November 3, 2008

Yesterday, I dragged my unwilling kids out to see T. Boone Pickins speak about his energy plan.  I felt like it would be something of a watershed event where they’d look back and say, “wow, that’s when…”  Unfortunately, Boone was not an especially dynamic (or even intelligible) speaker and they did not get much from it.

Here’s what I got from it:

  1. Boone believes our #1 issue is dependence on foreign oil (70% of our oil is imported).
  2. We need to aggressively switch to natural gas as a transportation fuel to replace diesel from imported crude.

That’s it and I’m disappointed.  Boone is correct in both points, but I don’t think that is even close to a complete plan.  Here’s my 10 point energy plan:

  1. Implement an increasing carbon based tax to create incentives to move away from carbon based fuels.  Reducing the total oil used will dramatically impact the import issue.  If natural gas is more efficient, then we’ll use that instead to reduce the carbon tax impact.  Potentially, imported carbon could have additional tariffs.
  2. Require (fund) a standard platform for nuclear plants so that we can have common practices and economies of scale.
  3. Immediately start increasing the efficiency standards for everything (appliances, computers, HVAC, cars) that are sold.  Provide substantial tax incentives for people who replace these items if they also recycle the replaced unit.
  4. Establish a Sustainable Corps to help implement efficiency & green power projects nationwide.
  5. Fund Power Up Our Schools program to make all school districts energy independent in 5 years.
  6. Impose a disposal surcharge on items that cannot be broken down into recyclable components.
  7. Stop all subsidies for production of corn ethanol.
  8. Take away tax breaks for energy companies – they get to keep the money if they were re-investing it into R&D.  If they won’t fund research then the government gets to use the windfall.
  9. Grant right of way for high-speed passenger trains along existing interstate routes.
  10. 55 mile per hour national speed limit and add pay for access inner-city driving – this alone would eliminate the amount of crude that we import from Saudi Arabia.

These 10 items would make an immediate and signficant different.  They leverage people making economic choices and do not restrict personal freedoms.

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You must read Hot, Flat, & Crowded

October 29, 2008

by Thomas Friedman (Amazon).  It’s an excellent discussion about our current challenges with concrete solutions.  I’ll post more about it, but I recommend just reading the source.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

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Introducing the GI Fill

August 6, 2008

I saw the intriguing movie Kabluey at the Dobie on UT campus last night.  Since campus as breft of students, I was surprised to see the Army recruiting office bristling with soldiers in camouflage.  I’ve heard that volunteers are reluctant to defend our right to Middle East crude and am I suggested a new inventive plan – the “GI Fill.”

Instead of paying to educate returning soldiers under the old-school GI Bill, my GI Fill offers fuel purchasing assistance to veterans and their families.  I believe that they have earned the right to get extra of the substance that they’ve risked their lives to protect.  In addition, it would create Detroit saving demand for SUVs.

Fighting to defend our right to Fill Up

Fighting to defend our right to Fill Up

Now that’s effective recruiting!  If you’re interesting in the pre-photoshop poster.

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Energy Analog: 60s Litter?

August 1, 2008

I had an interesting conversation over breakfast with MetroNetIQ.com blogger and fellow Green Geek, John C.  We were comparing the social paradigm shift about litter that occurred in the 60s to the needed change about energy.  In the last 60s, litter was a massive free rider problem where people felt totally OK throwing trash everywhere.  Industrial pollution and dumping were also rampant.

I still vividly remember the anti-pollution adds (albeit from the 1970s).  Through a combination of laws and social change we have radically altered society’s opinion about pollution and litter.  They are simply not accepted – they have become social taboos.  We need the same change for sustainability.

An enduring icon for anti-pollution

An enduring icon for anti-pollution

The change took huge political will power.  It was an major economic burden on the businesses.  People individually took action and changed their behavior.  So what happened to change us? Why is this different than the nascent energy paradigm shift?

I believe that the pollution problem was directly in people’s back yards and visible.  Water and air quality in-your-face disasters.  It also fit with the culture of the era.  So far, our energy problem has been growing silently – terrorism and climate change are hard to link to daily actions.  The recent surge in prices is motivating people to change, but I don’t see a paradigm shift.

What icon will emerge for sustainability?  How bad will it have to get before we have a universal icon?

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Want to lower gas prices? Advocate for energy independence!

July 31, 2008

It’s not a shock that reductions in supply or increases in demand will increase prices.  The strange thing about our current oil price is that supply is stable and demand increases are moderate (or at least predictable).  So what is driving the price up?

I don’t agree with this as a complete picture, but let’s blame “market speculation” just for the fun of it.  There is some justification for blaming speculation – when China removed price controls, oil fell because demand would drop.  Oil falls on news about major car makers converting from trucks to cars.  Fundamentally, the THREAT of reducing demand is enough make the price of oil drop.

If the US takes decisive action to reduce our demand for oil then the price would drop.  I believe that oil rich countries would then be forced to take equally decisive measures to maintain our addition on oil.  Unfortunately, with low prices we would again lose our conservation drive.  There is a strong historical pattern of this type of behavior.

Do we have the will power to finally break free of the Oil cycle?

Do we have the will power to finally break free of the Oil cycle?

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Oil prices up or down? Speculation driving them up?

July 23, 2008

I heard on NPR today that Congress determined rising Oil prices were NOT due to speculation.  Here’s an interesting debate about short & long term future for OilMatthew Simmon‘s, a peak oil advocate, suggests that we should put a floor on the price to prevent short term thinking.  He argues that 1) oil supplies will continue to lag demand and 2) we won’t make the long term changes needed until people stop thinking of this is a oil price bubble.  He says, “stop the witch hunt and start looking for solutions.”

Peak Oil Analyst

Peak Oil Analyst

I believe that our government is highly motivated to find a short term fix to the supply problem.  Inescapable election year politics lead me to predict that we’re likely to have an artificial/short return to low prices to stimulate the economy.  I think this will have much more drastic long term costs.

Alternative energy is the only long term solution .  A price floor will protect investors in alternative fuels because real alternatives need time to reach the mass market.

I’ll suggest again, that we should have a 10+ year “energy independence” initiative like the 1960’s space race where we invest heavily in building the expertise (the people) to solve this problem.  Our nation benefited dramatically from that focus.  A sustainability focus would regain maintain our world leadership.

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Beef high in fat and Oil

July 20, 2008

About 10 years ago I stopped eating beef because it was high in fat and that’s not healthy for me.

Now I have a second reason.  Beef is a huge energy waster.  Here’s the chain:

  • Beef comes from cows.
  • Cows from feed lots are fattened up with corn.
  • Corn takes a lot of oil to produce (plus corn for ethanol competes with oil)

Cows also use lots of energy in transport and processing.

Source Federico Mena Quintero

Source Federico Mena Quintero

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Rising tide lifts all prices

July 20, 2008

I heard from a friend that coal is now 100% more expensive than last year and that increase is going to show up in our electric bills.  I heard yesterday that wheat is now 200% more expensive than last year because corn prices have skyrocketed based on ethanol demand.

The price of oil has a direct impact on ALL OTHER forms of energy.  Energy is fungable and there are substitutes for oil.

There is no end to the sky and sea.

From Jan-Baker.com: "There is no end to the sky and sea."