Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


March 6, 2012

Will Oil Prices Be a Factor in the 2012 Election?

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence,Political – Tom Harrison – 2:10 pm

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

Democracy and Oil Do Not Mix

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence,Policy,Political – Tom Harrison – 8:32 pm

Oil and Democracy

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…)

January 16, 2011

A New Time For Green

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Energy Independence,Little Things – Tom Harrison – 10:33 pm

Green is alive and kicking. But it’s in a very different state than just a few months ago. Actually it’s not in a different state, it’s in different countries. All but the US. You know: Denmark, and China.

When the climate bill was killed in the Senate, they world changed. Important incentives that affected consumers, home owners as well as businesses expired at the end of 2010. Cancun was hobbled from the start. Don’t invest in clean energy for now (unless you’re shorting).

So now in the US we wait to see how the rest of the world will Raymond lunch. All we can do is take a different tack.

The EPA has teeth and has bared them several times, this week vetoing a previously approved mountaintop removal coal mining permit, for example. I am glad they have these teeth, but it’s not a solution, just a firewall.

In an odd paradox, the tool left to the EPA after the climate change bill was scuttled by Republicans not wanting regulation was an EPA whose only weapon was regulation. At the same time the business friendly, conservative created Cap and Trade approach, which would have provided predictable, incremental change was killed. So the more fickle act of regulation is now what businesses got.

Massey Energy and I are both sad about that outcome. Strange bedfellows.

Meanwhile, our old friend, oil prices, are sticking over $90/bbl and gasoline prices continue to creep up. Weather events continue to be extreme and unusual, consistent with predictions of climate change science. GM and Nissan have electric cars for sale. We continue to subsidize mortgage interest, but have revoked incentives to make homes more efficient. Odd.

Business is back to usual. Let’s hope the true believers in market forces are right. All indications are that they are wrong, but don’t let the facts get in the way of political expedience and dogma. If they are wrong, the dogmatists, we will have caused the US to lose an edge that will be hard to regain. To China!

Irony? More like stupidity

April 29, 2010

“Spill Baby, Spill” – Oil Leak “May Be Five Times Initial Estimate”

Category: Climate Change,Companies,Energy Independence,Political – Tom Harrison – 8:26 am

Credit: New York Times

I think I should claim a scoop on this story, as when I wrote my post the other day, I had beat the New York Times and most other media to identifying the BP Oil Spill as a rather major disaster. I am sad to say “I told you so”.

The news media seem to be coming around to my way of thinking. The New York Times is now reporting as the lead story that, um, those 42,000 gallons of oil per day leaking into the sea may be more like, um 210,000 gallons (this is all converted to “barrels” now — an oil barrel holds 42 US gallons, so the initial estimate was 1,000 barrels/day is now 5,000).

Holy hole, Batman!

And it appears that BP’s public relations operation has also gotten bigger.

Fortunately, the problem isn’t that bad. No, really. (more…)

March 21, 2010

Oil Prices over $80/bbl for last week, doubled since last year

Category: Climate Change,Energy Independence,Policy – Tom Harrison – 9:51 am

The stock market isn’t the only thing to have recovered since this time last year — in fact where stocks have increased by 48%, good old oil has doubled. Perhaps you have noticed — I paid $2.85/gallon for gas yesterday.

There are no suggestions that oil prices are going to tumble any time soon; on the contrary, gas is expected to pass $3/gallon this Spring.

Personally, my issue is climate change, but if you’re into the economy, or security, or other things, what part of this picture is unclear? (more…)

July 10, 2009

We Love Hot Cars; We Need a New Hotness

Category: Companies,Energy Independence,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:23 am

Today’s Times reports that the new Camaro from GM is selling well. The base V-6 model gets a mediocre 22 MPG. A quote from the article sums it up for me, discussing

… Scott Wilbur, a 40-year-old elementary school principal who bought a silver V-8 Camaro in June.

Mr. Wilbur had not purchased a G.M. vehicle in a decade, and traded in his Honda Civic hybrid to buy the Camaro.

He even gave up his California-issued sticker to drive in hybrid-only carpool lanes to get behind the wheel of his new muscle car.

“I might not be as environmentally friendly, but at this point I don’t mind waiting in traffic to drive this,” he said.

To be fair, he says might buy a Volt next year (by the way, how does an elementary school Principal afford two new cars, one very expensive, in two years?).

But c’mon, folks — this is not what we need. We love our hot cars, and have for years. Do we need to define a new “hot”? In the 1980’s women with big hair were “hot” (for that matter, in the 1680s, women with big thighs were “hot”). Tail-fins were in then out. Pocket-rockets were in. Why can’t we figure out how to make a car that people love that they don’t love because of the roar of its internal combustion engine soaking up gasoline?

I see why GM needed to get bailed out, and I see GM changing their views on the way things are. I don’t see the American populace picking up the cues.

I am writing now from Europe. There are a lot of nice cars here, but very, very few are large. Perhaps that’s because gas costs 1.32 per liter, or $6.95/gallon. So people have made some very hot (or cool, or funky, or interesting) cars that also happen to be far smaller.

But perhaps more important, people have created better ways of travel that work (and are not cars).

March 21, 2009

Green: No Longer the “New Black” for Shell Oil

Category: Companies,Energy Independence – Tom Harrison – 7:34 pm

shelllogoBlack is back at Shell. Black gold. Texas tea. Green is out.

Oh yes, it’s the same Royal Dutch Shell that was so committed to renewable energy sources a few months ago. But they have had a change of heart. The Guardian reports:

The company said that many alternative technologies did not offer attractive investment opportunities. Linda Cook, Shell’s executive director of gas and power, said: “If there aren’t investment opportunities which compete with other projects we won’t put money into it. We are businessmen and women. If there were renewables [which made money] we would put money into it.”

I can think of three possible explanations for this change of heart.

  1. Shell doesn’t believe that climate change, or carbon trading is a significant enough concern for their bottom line to factor them into any projections. Perhaps this is because recent polls show the number of people thinking climate change is “exaggerated” has risen rapidly. In short, without enough popular support, they are betting that their business will continue as usual for the foreseeable future. Or…
  2. They never really meant to do anything in the first place, and it was all a big marketing gambit. Or…
  3. As renewable sources grow, Shell sees them now as a competitive threat to their core business.

Perhaps you’ll note that one of my possible explanations for their actions does not include their explanation, namely that renewables are not cost effective. They report that some of their investment is being aimed at carbon sequestration. I do believe that there’s an important role in sequestration, but whereas renewables are getting close to grid parity, carbon sequestration cannot possibly have any immediate revenue potential — it’s almost purely R&D and cost today. One would have to have a rather dismal view of renewables to fail to see how they could be at least as good an investment as carbon sequestration.

Maybe there are other explanations. These were just the ones that occurred to me. But I think some combination of these explanations accounts for the lion’s share of their decision. So how could a company be so … simplistic?

Maybe they’re just suffering the myopia that comes from being a leading, profitable company? After reading projections by BP of energy use in the future (which predict that in 20 years, only 7% of our energy will come from renewable resources), I have come to understand that the oil companies really have a very limited ability to see into the future. They seem to be constrained by their view of the past. Historically, corporations have not be particularly willing or good at predicting the demise (or major change) of the character their business. The ones that did survived (for example: IBM and Smith-Corona both made typewriters). Few people remember the names of the companies that sold candles and whale oil … before the electric light smote them out of existence.

Indeed, the survivors of major change are the ones who not just accept, but embrace the change as an opportunity. To be honest, I have little faith in just about any of the oil companies, at this point. It’s almost moot now to point out how badly GM and Chrysler have failed to recognize their demise, and I give a slight credit to Ford, only because it was clear three years ago that Bill Ford understood why sustainability was a goal worth pursuing.

I do think it’s curious to wonder if indeed my third explanation, that Shell sees renewables as a competitive threat, has any merit. Wind power has been growing very fast. Solar is making technical and scaling breakthroughs that change the equation a little. Obama isn’t equivocating about climate change, cap-and-trade, energy independence, or any other issue that tend to favor renewables and hurt fossil fuel companies. The science is not getting any less clear on climate change, and the regulatory landscape is solidifying.

Perhaps if I were Shell, I might realized that I had better damned well figure out if there’s any way in hell that carbon sequestration will work, and meanwhile, clean up my act a little and save some money doing it … but by no means cut into my core business. I think this is a (classic) short-sited, reactive, self-protectionist business response that has been the death knell of many former large enterprises. It makes sense, but only in the most narrow, unintelligent was of looking at the world. But then again, we’re not talking about people, who have capacity for intelligence — we’re talking about corporations. The two are different.

Suffice it to say that while I may have not gotten the correct explanation of Shell’s failure to adapt to the inevitable future, I am confident that in three years, I’ll be able to link back to this post, and the others I have written, and report how the fortunes of Shell and ExxonMobil have become more clear, and how they failed to do the right thing to evolve their businesses. Even when the facts were as easy to see as the back of your hand.

Great Explanation of Cap-and-Rebate

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Energy Independence – Tom Harrison – 2:52 pm

Check this out. A simple (yep, simple!) explanation of why cap and trade, and another similar program called cap and rebate, both work. From TerraPass.

February 10, 2009

Obama: The Simple Logic of Efficiency (NOT BORING!)

Category: Conservation,Editorial,Energy Independence,Household,Policy – Tom Harrison – 10:34 am

President Obama highlighted the benefits of efficiency in his press conference last night, in several different cases. For example, he said

When people suggest that, “What a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.” Why would that be a waste of money?

We’re creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans’ homes, as was called for in the package, so that right there creates economic stimulus.

And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets. And we’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn’t we want to make that kind of investment?

Why not indeed?

Even my hero Jon Stewart on The Daily Show showed clips of Obama talking about weatherization as Stewart pretended to nod off. Next, they played a clip of one of Obama’s rousing speeches about grand ideas and asked “Where is that guy?” Weatherization sounds so … boring, I guess. It doesn’t sound grand, or bold.

We continually seek grand “silver bullet” solutions to our problems. Instead we need smart solutions, and lots and lots of them, boring or not. (more…)

February 7, 2009

Uncertainty Is Bad For Coal

Category: Climate Change,Energy Independence – Tom Harrison – 2:35 pm

coal-plantThere have been a number of news items lately about how coal-fired plant projects are being canceled or deferred (the good news); but so are renewables projects like wind and solar installations (the bad news). But the cause is different. In the case of renewables, the main cause of reduction seems to be the absence of investment capital — last year was great, but now, things are drying up. Coal companies, on the other hand, seem to be responding to the increasing number of roadblocks being encountered in the building of new coal plants.

Two years ago, it was business as usual. But Fred Krupps and Environmental Defense lawyers had a rather major victory last year when they facilitated a reversal in which a planned 11 new coal plants in Texas were scuttled (well 8, actually) in favor of new investments in wind farms. To me, this seemed to be the turning point in the tide; since then a number of coal plant projects have been deferred or scrapped outright … in fact, most of them. During the Presidential campaign, the idea of clean coal was raised by all candidates, but this perhaps clarified the notion that good ol’ regular coal was dirty (which it most definitely is).

Then as “clean coal” kept coming up, some groups started pointing out that clean coal is fantasy. (more…)