November 13, 2012
I have heard more about climate change in the “big” news in the last few weeks than I think I have heard in … years.
The confluence of several big things may have presented an opportunity: the “fiscal cliff”, the hurricane Sandy, and the outcome of the 2012 election. (more…)
March 6, 2012
Hmm, what was it again that happened in late 2008?
Once again, the price of oil may be a factor in the outcome of the 2012 US presidential and congressional elections.
Energy security. That’s what we are allowed to say we want. Today, oil prices are well over $100/bbl and are predicted to keep rising. Instability with Iran is the cause, right?
Perhaps, but it’s also possible that gasoline prices are rising because employment rates and other economic factors are improving. The decimation of our economy in 2008 was the best thing to happen to gasoline prices. It’s pretty clear that economic growth and demand for energy, and oil in particular are strongly correlated: (more…)
March 5, 2011
Oil & Democracy: A Costly Mix
We are torn here in the US.
We need the oil, and we need to support democratizing movements in the world. And these days, for the right reasons, these two goals are once again at odds.
The precarious balance between the two is getting more so. It won’t get better.
In the last Presidential election the alarmingly high price of oil was framed as energy security, but it’s not about energy. We have plenty of energy in gas and coal. And nuclear and solar and wind. Plenty or energy.
Oil is special because we don’t have easy substitutes at the moment. Liquid fuel is what we run on today. It is technically possible to convert most transportation to alternates, notably natural gas, then electric. But that is happening glacially. (more…)
December 24, 2010
Where She Stops Nobody Knows
Crude Oil prices have been on the rise this month, and most are projecting they’ll continue to increase.
There are two groups of people who say things like “Oh, yeah!” when passing a gas station selling unleaded for $3.09/gallon, or fist-pump when they hear that light sweet crude is selling for $91.41/bbl.
Rex Tillerson and his cronies in the oil business (e.g. Republican Party)…
Me (and my family and some others).
Our reasons are different.
Rex wants money. And he’ll get it.
I want climate change and related legislation. And I’ll get it … eventually.
Am I A Bad Person For Wanting Oil Prices To Rise?
No, I am not a bad person.
The bad person is all those in our Senate who failed to recognize the importance of climate change, and deniers, and all the others who are foolishly preventing a rational response to climate change.
Most of these people know they mainly want to retain power, or remove people from power. They know what they are doing, and that it is wrong. These are bad people.
To be sure, rising oil prices tend to hurt many people, mostly the ones with less money (a recurring theme these days). Here in the northeast, many people heat their houses with oil. People use gasoline to drive to work. It’s real.
It’s so real that one could argue in the last big oil price spike, it set the national agenda and was a factor in electing our President. Some would even argue that high oil prices were the straw that broke the camel’s back, sending us into the Great Recession. High oil prices hurt.
How High Oil Prices Help
However, high oil prices also do a few other things:
- High prices help remind us that we’re dependent on oil (and other energy)
- High prices help demonstrate that relatively small price increase signals can result in significant reductions in consumption
- High prices also demonstrate that change is temporary; when prices fall again, so will our memory
- High prices let us know that putting a price on carbon would help us finally get off this roller-coaster
Because the US Senate failed to act on climate change in 2010 (blame whoever you want, it doesn’t matter: we failed) the world will take even longer to start dealing with the issues of climate change in a real way.
(I recognize that oil is a relatively small contributor to GHG emissions compared to coal and natural gas. Price isn’t the point. As we have seen lots of things change when oil prices increase. It’s not just increased fuel efficiency — everything about energy is affected. It hits people in their wallets, and, whether for the right reasons or not, they react.)
So all we can do now is hope for oil prices to rise. Because of the reasons cited, high oil prices seems to be the only thing that will awaken us as a nation sufficiently to result in longer-term legislative response to climate issues.
December 13, 2010
Surprisingly Close To Incandescent
I have written about LED lighting before, saying “Not there yet” — my most recent checkup was about 18 months ago.
There’s some progress, but we’re still not quite there. Home Depot is selling a Philips LED light bulb: same brightness as a 60W incandescent bulb (in other words, dim), same shape as standard A19 bulb, same color temperature and color rendering index, and dimmable, uses 12W, and lasts for 25,000 hours — Cost: $40.
A comparable CFL, (although not dimmable) costs about $1.50 and uses 13W and lasts 8,000 hours.
A comparable incandescent costs around $1 and uses 60W and lasts about 1,000 hours.
Some math. Compared to incandescent:
- CFL and LED both use about 1/5th as much electricity
- LED lasts 25x longer, CFL lasts 8x longer
So let’s think about lifetime cost. (more…)
Baby Its Warm Outside
Last week, it was colder outside than the temperature inside my fridge and freezer … but the fridge kept running — why can’t it use the cold air from outside? And while I am asking questions, why do I need a humidifier in winter while exhausting that nice, hot, humid air from our showers outside with a fan? Or, that nice hot humid air from the dryer — big plumes of hot air into the icy cold? It smells nice, too.
Our homes and their appliances are dumb as stumps. Or, is it us?
To be sure, the bathroom exhaust fan is not a simple problem — there are indeed times when that which is being exhausted is, um, best left outside.
But the clothes dryer — if you put in a dryer sheet, you’re sending nice smelling, warm, humid air outside (and, by blowing air outside through one hole, it is replaced by sucking in cold, dry, outside air through some other leak or hole). The fridge is even more perverse: 20°F outside, and the motor is running? Huh?
Afraid To Be Too Smart
Of course the reason for these inefficiencies is simply that adding smarts to appliances increases complexity, and that increases cost. (more…)
August 24, 2010
Click To Enlarge
There’s been a lot of dramatic weather this year, in fact more records than in recorded history — I would like to take a moment to consider their impact.
Many, many people suffer, and much property was damaged or destroyed. These extreme weather events are all consistent with the predictions of climate change. Let’s go out on a limb, for a moment, and consider a world that has, with increasing frequencies, climate events like these. This isn’t going far out on a limb, because this kind of weather instability is one thing climate scientists have been predicting, correctly, as a result of climate change.
What climate change scientists predict are resulting in some downstream impacts, which I tend to think are likely to be the most immediate threats to our “first world” ways of life. (more…)
August 14, 2010
Demand for electricity is highest on hot days in the summer, mainly because people, and businesses turn on their air conditioners. Increased demand is pretty easy to predict using a weather forecast.
When you turn on your AC, some generator, somewhere has to work a tiny bit harder — it happens almost instantly and automatically. All of this is entirely invisible to you.
But, in the aggregate, when lots of people turn on their AC and this happens at scale, three things can occur:
- The generator (power plant) revs a little higher and produces more power, unless it’s at it’s capacity, then
- The power plant operator ramps up one of the “operating reserve” plants, unless they have already put all the spares online, in which case
- There’s a brown-out, or black-out
But actually there’s another option: consumers of power could just use less. But how do we know to use less — it’s invisible.
And, would we do anything is we know we were getting to the edge of capacity? What’s interesting is that some customers agree to unplug voluntarily. This link is to a story in the New York Times. It doesn’t surprise me that (some) people are willing to adjust their behavior without monetary incentives. What I found remarkable is how primitive the system for communicating the need is:
On the afternoon before an anticipated surge in demand, e-mails, faxes and phone calls go out alerting those who had already agreed that it is time for them to unplug.
So what if there were a way to automatically inform people of peak events? What if people that turned off appliances did get some economic benefit? (more…)
June 24, 2010
In a couple cases recently, I have heard people talking about how the Jevons Paradox will undermine efforts to use energy more efficiently — and it certainly seems like it would fit, but it doesn’t apply to our current energy problems for several reasons: conservation, and improved efficiency are still our best options.
Or, so started a post that I began writing a couple weeks ago. Then, in some sort of karmic mind-meld, Peter Troast at EnergyCircle.com wrote a post about Jevons, with almost the same conclusion as I was going to draw. Yeah, right, I hear you say.
So anyhoo, I think this topic is important to the larger discussion of energy, especially renewable energy, so here’s a link to Peter’s post on energy efficiency, which already has a nice thread of comments and observations — take a look, it’s a good read — and, add your thoughts!
April 21, 2010
In the last month, oil prices have been over $80 a barrel — prices were over $86 twice, fell, and are now back on their way up.
Gasoline prices are around $2.80/gallon, up from around $2.00/gallon a year ago and rising a little each week over the last month.
Heating oil cost has risen over the year from $1.40/gallon to around $2.20/gallon.
Natural gas is also up year over year, rising from around $3.50/MMBTU to around $4.00, and volatile, closing over $7 for a few days in the winter.
However, domestic US Coal prices are about even, down a little, this year (from $2.21/MMBTU to $2.14) — I guess the energy we produce at home can be less expensive. Too bad burning coal releases about 2x the CO2 of natural gas (and a great deal more than wind and solar).
How We Respond To Energy Price Changes
But it appears that only energy prices drive our behaviors. We tend to over-react in some ways (markets, producers, consumers), yet have remarkably short memories, and seemingly weak abilities to identify coming changes.
I do understand that many people are negatively affected (more…)