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  • Archive for the 'Energy & Power Generation' Category

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd October 2015 (All posts by )

    Bookworm attended an awards dinner for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and reports at length on the honoree’s speech.  For those not familiar with Hirsi Ali:  raised as a Muslim in Somalia, she eventually moved to Holland, where she became of member of Parliament and collaborated on a film about Islam with Theo van Gogh, who was murdered.  Although she has been the target of many death threats, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has refused to be silenced.  Be sure to read Book’s well-written post.

    BBC has a new documentary about Ada, countess of Lovelace…computer pioneer of the 1840s, daughter of the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” poet, Lord Byron, and aficionado of gambling on the horses.

    Once, there was an unpleasant political movement called the “Know-Nothings.”  Today, we have the Know-Betters,

    Claire Berlinski writes about the growing phenomenon of ritual humiliations and denunciations.

    Related to the above, a very interesting analysis of the evolution of society from Cultures of Honor–in which the individual must personally avenge wrongs and insults…to Cultures of Dignity–in which people are assumed to have dignity, foreswear individual violence, rely on the judicial system to to respond to major transgressions and sometime simply ignore minor transgressions (there’s no more dueling)…and now to a Culture of Victimhood, in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture–but they must not obtain redress on their own, rather, they must appeal to powerful others or administrative bodies.

    Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson says that Obama “chose the wrong side” on the climate-change debate.  His thoughts on the psychology behind apocalyptic climate thinking are interesting,

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous, Tech | 11 Comments »

    You Can Drown in a Lake Whose Average Depth is 6 Inches

    Posted by David Foster on 29th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Where electrical power is concerned, it seems quite difficult for many people to grasp the importance of peak versus average demand and of  peak versus average supply.

    A letter in today’s WSJ argues in favor of solar power, noting that “unlike large generation plants, enormous wind turbines and especially nuclear reactors, all of which require years of planning, personal and small industrial solar installations can be planned and installed in a month or so”  The writer says that utilities are seeing these installations diminish their income, and hence “understandably are fighting back by charging not just for electricity, but separately for connection to the grid.”  He argues that as utilities raise their connection charges to compensate for the newly disconnected, more and more people will think that utility power is a bad deal and will disconnect totally, which will “ultimately result in electric utilities holding sway only in urban or perpetually cloudy areas.”

    What happens with solar will be largely dependent on the future improvements in battery or other energy storage technologies, but I think it is most unlikely that most people will be comfortable disconnecting from the grid totally.  With any economically-reasonable level of local storage, a run of bad weather is likely to result in running out of power totally, with very uncomfortable consequences.

    What most people who invest heavily in solar are likely to do, IMO, is to maintain a backup grid connection for those exceptional cases.  The problem is that the exceptional conditions will occur for thousands of households and other sites at the same time over a broad area…requiring the utility’s generation and transmission facilities to be sized for these exceptional conditions, with capital expenditures made accordingly.

    Continuing financial viability of the utilities will require these costs to be recovered, either via a connection fee (“readiness-to-serve charge”) or a very high kwh charge for these infrequent and difficult-to-handle customers.  But the solar people will argue vehemently against these charges, asserting that they represent nothing more than corporate greed and hostility to new technology, and are likely to gain considerable political support.

    In this scenario, in those areas with substantial distributed solar power, the utilities will be driven into financial distress or will have to raise rates considerably on their non-solar customers…which in turn will encourage more people to invest in solar, but will create great economic pain from those people and businesses who cannot do this, and eventually result in the costs of the entire vast grid infrastructure and its maintenance being allocated against an ever-declining base.  This seems unlikely to end well.

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Tech | 25 Comments »

    Was Ethan Allen a wing nut?

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 8th August 2015 (All posts by )

    First Bernie Sanders, now this:

    Now that Vermont has a mandate to get 75 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2032, residents will have to ditch automobiles and embrace a whole new way of life, the state’s top renewable energy CEO says.
    “We’re probably going to have to abandon the car,” David Blittersdorf, president of All Earth Renewables, told Addison County Democrats in a recent presentation titled “Vermont’s Renewable Energy Future.
    “The idea that we’re going to be flying around in airplanes — it’s one of the worst consumers of energy and emitting carbon. … I tell my kids … if you’re going to travel, travel now. Don’t wait 50 years. It’s going to cost you 10 times as much for every one of those flights.”

    It’s as though Julian Stanley never lived.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Just Unbelievable, Leftism | 12 Comments »

    Our Disastrous Energy Policy, Continued

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd August 2015 (All posts by )

    New Clean Air Act regulations have recently been proposed by the EPA.

    President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry. The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.

    What is interesting is that the EPA recently had their ever-expanding mandate struck down by the Supreme court just a few short weeks ago, when their attempt to kill off coal through regulation of mercury and other pollutants was invalidated for not sufficiently weighing the cost of the proposed initiative.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment | 28 Comments »

    “Report: Federal Oil and Gas Production Down Significantly Under Obama”

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th May 2015 (All posts by )

    Lachlan Markay in the Washington Free Beacon:

    Oil and gas production on federal land continues to decline even as the United States experiences unprecedented growth in overall fossil fuel extraction, according to a federal report released on Monday.
    The Congressional Research Service found that oil production on federal land declined by 10 percent from 2010 to 2014 while production on private land increased by nearly 90 percent.
    Gas production on federal land decreased by 31 percent during the same period, while production on private land increased by 21 percent.

    (Via the API SmartBrief)

    Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, Obama, Politics | 9 Comments »

    The Energy Crisis in Africa.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by )


    This is a powerful piece on the cost of environmental extremism to the world’s poor.

    The soaring [food] prices were actually exacerbated (as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN confirmed) by the diversion of much of the world’s farmland into making motor fuel, in the form of ethanol and biodiesel, for the rich to salve their green consciences. Climate policies were probably a greater contributor to the Arab Spring than climate change itself.

    The use of ethanol in motor fuels is an irrational response to “green propaganda. The energy density of biofuel, as ethanol additives are called, is low resulting in the use of more and more ethanol and less and less arable land for food.

    Without abundant fuel and power, prosperity is impossible: workers cannot amplify their productivity, doctors cannot preserve vaccines, students cannot learn after dark, goods cannot get to market. Nearly 700 million Africans rely mainly on wood or dung to cook and heat with, and 600 million have no access to electric light. Britain with 60 million people has nearly as much electricity-generating capacity as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, minus South Africa, with 800 million.

    South Africa is quickly destroying its electricity potential with idiotic racist policies.

    Just to get sub-Saharan electricity consumption up to the levels of South Africa or Bulgaria would mean adding about 1,000 gigawatts of capacity, the installation of which would cost at least £1 trillion. Yet the greens want Africans to hold back on the cheapest form of power: fossil fuels. In 2013 Ed Davey, the energy secretary, announced that British taxpayers will no longer fund coal-fired power stations in developing countries, and that he would put pressure on development banks to ensure that their funding policies rule out coal. (I declare a commercial interest in coal in Northumberland.)
    In the same year the US passed a bill prohibiting the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — a federal agency responsible for underwriting American companies that invest in developing countries — from investing in energy projects that involve fossil fuels.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Crony Capitalism, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, International Affairs, Leftism, Politics, Science | 3 Comments »

    Shawyer Space Drive…Arriving.

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st May 2015 (All posts by )

    A science fiction writer acquaintance of mine, John Ringo, is already going nuts about this “Shawyer Drive” on his Facebook page, because he
    is friends with one of the scientists involved.

    See power point page and the links below:

    Magnetron driven, reaction massless, "Shawyer Drive"

    Magnetron driven, reaction massless, “Shawyer Drive”

    Magnetron powered EM-drive construction expected to take two months

    Emdrive Roger Shawyer believes midterm EMdrive interstellar probe could flyby Alpha Centauri

    The drive seems to be a quantum “zero-point energy” phenomena that you put electricity into and get reaction massless thrust out of.

    _AND_ it looks to be both scalable and improvable with better magnetrons.

    This is also dovetailing nicely with a Lockheed Martin compact fusion reactor that

    1. Generates more power than it uses and
    2. Produces something on the order of 7.4 megawatts


    Given the reality of Space X’s and Blue Origin’s reusable rocket successes, and it seems that Mankind is about to burst out from this planet in a very big way.


    And all of the above is driving John Ringo to despair on his science fiction writing career.

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Miscellaneous, Science, Society, Space | 13 Comments »

    Powering Down: “Earth Hour”

    Posted by David Foster on 30th March 2015 (All posts by )

    American Digest:

    Once upon a time we knew enough to curse the darkness. In the aeons long climb from the muck, we have only had the ability to hold back the dark for a bit over a century. Now millions yearn to embrace it and, should they yearn long enough and hard enough, the darkness will embrace them and hold them for much longer than a brief hour of preening and self-regard.

    The Big Picture at the Boston Globe site routinely publishes stunning photographs of what is taking place in the world. But at editor Alan Taylor’s whim after last year’s “Earth Hour”, it went a step further in “celebrating” the rise of mass insanity in our age. “Earth Hour 2009”presents a round-the-world tour of cities with each picture designed to fade from light into darkness at the click of a mouse. Proud of his clever variation on a theme, the editor’s instructions were — without a hint of irony:

    “[click image to see it fade]”

    Of course with a second mouse click the lights came back on. It never seems to occur to the people with the Green Disease, that is perfectly possible to

    [click civilization to see it fade]

    and get no second click.


    I’ve done four posts with the “Powering Down” heading, all relating to the stream of political and social attacks which are being conducted against the West’s energy sources and industrial base. These attacks are usually justified by “environmentalism” raised to the status of a religion; often, they are also motivated by individual and/or group desires to align themselves with technologies and trends that are considered “cool” and to avoid any connection with technologies and trends that are considered “uncool.”

    Powering Down #1: Here’s the great French scientist Sadi Carnot, writing in 1824:

    To take away England’s steam engines to-day would amount to robbing her of her iron and coal, to drying up her sources of wealth, to ruining her means of prosperity and destroying her great power. The destruction of her shipping, commonly regarded as her source of strength, would perhaps be less disastrous for her.

    For England in 1824, substitute the United States in 2009. And for “steam engines,” substitute those power sources which use carbon-based fuels: whether generating stations burning natural gas, blast furnaces burning coke, or trucks/trains/planes/automobiles using oil derivatives. With these substitutions, Carnot’s paragraph describes the prospective impact of this administration’s energy policies: conducting a war on fossil fuels, without leveling with people about the true limitations of “alternative” energy technologies and without seriously pursuing civilian nuclear power.


    Powering Down #2: Patrick Richardson: Kansas is ranked second in the nation behind Montana for wind energy potential, a fact which should have environmentalists jumping for joy. Instead, they’re trying to block the construction of transmission lines to wind farms in south central Kansas and north central Oklahoma.

    Why? Well it all has to do with the lesser prairie chicken. According to a story by the Hutchinson News in February of this year, ranchers and wildlife officials in the area are teaming up with groups like the Sierra Club to block the construction of the lines, which would apparently run through prime breeding territory for the bird.


    Powering Down #3: The California Water Resources Board has ruled that 19 natural gas power plants, located in coastal areas, are in violation of the Clean Water Act for using a technique called “once-through cooling.” According to this article, it appears that this ruling will result in the shutdown of most of these plants. continued

    Powering Down #4:  George Will writes about the the attack that Obama’s EPA is conducting against the Navajo Generating Station, which together with the coal mine that feeds it represents an important factor in Arizona’s economy and an important source of employment for members of the Navajo tribe.

    Will notes that the NGS provides 95 percent of the power for the pumps of the Central Arizona Project, which routes water from the Colorado River and which made Phoenix and most of modern Arizona possible. A study sponsored by the Interior Department estimates that the EPA’s mandate might increase the cost of water by as much as 32 percent, hitting agriculture users especially hard.

    original post and comments

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, USA | 18 Comments »

    Drill, Baby, Drill

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th March 2015 (All posts by )


    It looks like the battle for Saudi Arabia has begun and, if it follows the pattern of other Obama wars, it will be soon lost, or so Richard Fernandez believes.

    Even the New York Times sees it.

    President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Shiite rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head, officials said.

    The departure of the close U.S. ally and the imminent fall of the southern port of Aden pushed Yemen further toward a violent collapse. It also threatened to turn the impoverished but strategic country into another proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

    Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

    The stakes are very high for Europe, especially.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Europe, International Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Obama, Russia, War and Peace | 38 Comments »

    Entropy is taking over.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 27th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Another excellent post from The Belmont Club, Which I read every day.

    The barbarians of ISIS destroy ancient artifacts, in an outrage like those committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    The Taliban’s rejection this month of international appeals to halt the destruction of much of Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic heritage — their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar termed them idols — indicates that those most determined to impose their vision of a perfect Islamic state are firmly in control.

    That article was from the period before the US invasion. Many artifacts were repaired but that will stop and the destruction will resume after we leave.

    The Mosul destruction is to be expected everywhere the Takfiri tide rises enough to control an entity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Politics, Science | 19 Comments »

    Narratives, Scenarios, and Strategies

    Posted by Grurray on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by )

    “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”

    -George E.P. Box

    Models, predictions, and forecasts are always wrong, or, more accurately, they’re never completely right. That’s obvious since the map can never truly be the territory. Some are better than others, but no matter how hard we try and how much information that we gather, we’ll never construct a representation of reality better than the real thing. That being the case, forecasts therefore reveal more about ourselves and our present state of mind than anything about the future.

    The Research Feature in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives” (link here – requires a one time registration – or purchase Kindle article here for a few dollars), concerns a certain type of forecasting called scenario planning. The authors studied a tech company that was being hit hard during the 2001 economic crash and needed to find new strategies to navigate the rough seas ahead.

    Their research revealed that

    “future projections are intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present. Strategy making amid volatility thus involves constructing and reconstructing strategic narratives that reimagine the past and present in ways that allow the organization to explore multiple possible futures.”

    These explorations of possible futures, more commonly referred to as scenarios, are stories intended to describe possible futures, identify some significant events, main actors, and motivations, and convey how the world functions.

    The authors note that constructing forecasts based on these methods usually doesn’t work very well because the future is uncertain and often unfolds in a way that is very different from current trajectories. The current paths are comfortable and familiar, so they are difficult to deviate from. Constructing scenarios of the future actually first requires constructing paths that connect the past, present, and future. The narratives are those paths.

    ”In comparing strategy projects within CommCorp, we found that the more work managers do to create novel strategic narratives, the more likely they are to explore alternatives that break with the status quo. In other words, to get to an alternative future, you have to create a story about the past that connects to it.”

    Predicting, prognosticating, and prophesying have been around since time immemorial. The modern version of strategic scenario planning can be attributed to Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute and his “thinking the unthinkable” about nuclear war by taking into account non-linear, disruptive changes that lead to an uncertain future. The first to bring scenarios into the business world was the pioneering strategy guru Pierre Wack at Shell Oil who coined the term. Wack was a colorful and imaginative individual who took Kahn’s insights and repurposed them to affect the quality of judgment rather than quality of predictions.

    Among the many books, case studies, and articles on the Shell planning department, I just completed The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, a history of the scenario group culled from interviews of former members. Pierre Wack helped found it and headed it throughout the 1970s. The book concerns the entire history from then until the present, but it devotes a large part to Wack’s work and legacy.

    In contrast to Kahn’s theories, Wack was less concerned about decoding uncertainty or getting predictions right and more concerned with making future uncertainty more relevant to the present situation.

    “Wack was interested in scenarios as a way to ‘see’ the present situation more clearly, rather than as a basis for knowing about the future. The value of the scenarios is not in better forecasting what ‘the’ future will be, but in encouraging already smart people to learn by ‘seeing’ the present situation afresh, from the perspective offered by plausible, alternative futures , in a process that Wack termed ‘disciplined imagination’.”

    With an emphasis on present adaptation instead of future clarity, their first attempts happened to be nicely prescient. Their November 1971 scenarios covering “Producer Government Take/World Economic Development” and their January 1973 scenarios for “Impending Energy Scarcity” presented different tracks for oil prices including: a low slow growth scenario based on the continuation of past agreements with producer countries, a track that the corporate leadership expected; and a high price growth scenario which factored into concerns that producer countries were reaching limits to how much more capital inflows they could absorb.

    These scenarios involved explorations for prices through the late ’70s into the early ’80s. It’s important to keep in mind that, in keeping with the notion that they weren’t meant to be exact predictions, the high price track scenario still ended up being off by a factor of 20 as oil embargoes and inflation pushed prices higher than anyone could have imagined. Despite the fuzziness of the numbers, however, presenting a possible future far off from what was expected shifted thinking outside the company’s comfort zone.

    There was some initial skepticism from top executives, but the scenario planning helped the company to think differently and conditioned them to adjust in flexible ways that they wouldn’t have considered previously. Consideration of the high price track eventually led to Shell investing in nuclear and coal which helped offset the political turmoil and price shock that would arrive in the mid ’70s.

    “In October 1973, the first oil crisis began to unfold, and the entire organization became aware of the possibilities that scenarios offered. The 1973 scenarios report had provided a new frame of reference – the mindset of the oil producer countries. This new frame was significantly different from the usual analytical frame – the mindset of an oil company. The scenarios had enabled Shell executives to rehearse the future as a thought experiment rather than a crisis exercise. When the crisis actually occurred, Shell was able to collectively re-interpret the turbulent situation and to respond much faster than its competitors.”

    In order to be taken seriously, the Shell scenario team had to relate to top management how the oil producers’ situation related to their own situation.

    “In September 1972, Wack gave what those present remember as a three-hour, enthralling performance that was based on an image of the six scenarios as a river forking into two streams, each of which divided into three tributaries. The insight about hither oil prices and possible energy crisis… were integrated into one of these scenarios.”

    This technique demonstrated the narrative of how the high price scenario was linked to Shell’s operations and how it could have sprung forth from Shell’s past. The key was teasing out the culture, values, and qualities of the past that could make that future plausible.

    Similar re-interpretations of the past are what the MIT researchers found were most successful for their tech company. It wasn’t that they provided better predictions, but it helped provide a unifying vision and get everyone to buy into course changes that didn’t seem to fit before.

    “the crash in the market for its existing products had forced everyone at CommCorp to reevaluate the company’s historical strategic trajectory. This questioning enabled one manager to reinterpret CommCorp’s history, not only as a provider of big-ticket hardware for the backbone of the Internet but also as a provider of communications technologies across the whole network. By seeing the company as all about “communications,” the manager was able to propose a project for improving access at the “last mile” of the network. This reinterpretation made a radical shift in a future vision possible: CommCorp could provide small-ticket, standardized products as well as customized, high-end technologies.

    The narratives and scenarios became a way to define the company as it was today and illustrate a more coherent organizational structure. This is possible because of the rich potential of examining the past.

    “strategy making is not about getting the ‘right’ narrative. It’s about getting a narrative that is good enough for now, so that the organization can move forward and take action in uncertain times. This recognizes that strategy will in some ways always be evolving and “emergent.”

    Everyone loves to try to make predictions, but the real value lies in re-evaluating the past and restructuring past trajectories to provide for a launching point to navigate into the future. This “re-programming” the past is the way to deal with an uncertain future. Instead of forecasting futures that merely extrapolate from the status quo or futilely fighting future models that conflict with conventional mental maps, the use of narratives, scenarios, and strategies provides ways to create stronger and more harmonious models of the present.

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Management, Predictions | 16 Comments »

    The Comet and the Shirt.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 15th November 2014 (All posts by )



    The European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet this week.

    Unfortunately, there were a couple of malfunctions. In the first, the “harpoon” that was to anchor the lander malfunctioned allowing it to bounce around a bit.

    These revealed the astonishing conclusion that the lander did not just touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko once, but three times.

    The harpoons did not fire and Philae appeared to be rotating after the first touchdown, which indicated that it had lifted from the surface again.
    Stephan Ulamec, Philae manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, reported that it touched the surface at 15:34, 17:25 and 17:32 GMT (comet time – it takes over 28 minutes for the signal to reach Earth, via Rosetta). The information was provided by several of the scientific instruments, including the ROMAP magnetic field analyser, the MUPUS thermal mapper, and the sensors in the landing gear that were pushed in on the first impact.

    The result of this mishap was that the lander, which was using solar energy to recharge batteries, was not positioned properly to absorb the very weak sunlight energy at that distance.

    But then the lander lifted from the surface again – for 1 hour 50 minutes. During that time, it travelled about 1 km at a speed of 38 cm/s. It then made a smaller second hop, travelling at about 3 cm/s, and landing in its final resting place seven minutes later.

    That is quite a move and the result has been a very limited experiment as the lander has now shut down due to low battery power.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Europe, Science, Society, Space | 16 Comments »

    The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy

    Posted by Grurray on 15th October 2014 (All posts by )

    This year has seen many historical anniversaries, and one that has gotten some recent notoriety is the 90 year anniversary of the planned obsolescence of the light bulb by an industry cartel.

    How exactly did the cartel pull off this engineering feat? It wasn’t just a matter of making an inferior or sloppy product; anybody could have done that. But to create one that reliably failed after an agreed-upon 1,000 hours took some doing over a number of years. The household lightbulb in 1924 was already technologically sophisticated: The light yield was considerable; the burning time was easily 2,500 hours or more. By striving for something less, the cartel would systematically reverse decades of progress.

    It’s even more notable because last week three pioneers in LED technology just won the Nobel Prize.

    We all know about the efficiency standards for light bulbs that are effectively banning incandescent bulbs in slow motion. I’ve noticed during my usual stops at the home improvement stores that the choices for the vintage bulbs are fewer and farther between, and the prices for what’s left are creeping up.

    The promise of the new standards is that the new LED lighting is far superior. While it’s much more expensive, the steady drumbeat of the diffusion of technology is supposed to reduce the costs, eventually putting them within reach of the common household.

    The costs have indeed dropped exponentially, but that’s undoubtedly been helped by government aid and deliberate shortages of the old technology. Besides the federal standards, every state has some sort of efficient lighting rebate program that artificially decreases the price. Tax breaks and other incentives have encouraged manufacturers like GE to expand production in the US and create a few hundred jobs, which, although nice, don’t quite make up for the thousands they shipped to China during the Great Light Bulb Leap Forward. How much of the price gains can be attributed to Moore’s Law type improvements and how much to government supports is a legitimate concern.

    Now there’s some question about how long prices are going to keep falling going forward.

    In stark contrast to the promised dynamics that the technology is supposed to follow, LED prices actually rose considerably last month.

    In contrast, 40W equiv. LED bulb prices were up 14.3% in the U.S. market. Manufacturers including Cree, Philips, GE and other renowned brands have raised prices for certain products in the U.S. market.

    Because of industry consolidation, the top ten LED manufacturers now control 61% of the market. That much control brings pricing power over the market, and they are apparently now using it.

    With green energy executive orders on Obama’s agenda and the unelected EPA issuing mandates, the oligopoly is sure to get worse with permanently higher cost per lumens the possible result.

    The LED industry, taking a page from the incandescent bulb industry so many years ago, is discovering the key to the rent seekers’ success – competition is for losers, and unfortunately sometimes so is progress.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Politics, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Head in the Sand on Dams and Hydropower

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 24th August 2014 (All posts by )

    The popular (untrue) image of the ostrich as a bird that puts its head in the sand came to mind as a I read a recent NY Times article titled “Large Dams Just Aren’t Worth the Cost“. This article describes the usual culprits that plague dam construction:

    1. Cost overruns
    2. Dams take much longer to construct than originally planned
    3. Dams displace local residents (many in impoverished third world countries) who rarely thrive in their new locations
    4. Dams that are paid for with foreign loans (for many years the World Bank provided funding) often do poorly because the dam revenues come back in local currency and the loans are denominated in dollars; thus even if they hit their “nominal” returns, they don’t reach their “planned” returns when adjusted for currency depreciation

    These are all true objections to dam construction. However, these same criteria can be applied to virtually any energy construction project, from coal plants to nuclear plants to major LNG efforts.

    One key point that the article completely misses is that dams don’t require spending for “fuel” once they are up and running, and often it is fuel and distribution of fuel that bankrupt energy companies in the third world. The dam requires rain / water to generate power, and if this changes significantly, it can change the amount of power provided, but this is still generally better than “nothing”.

    There simply would not be electricity in many areas of the third world without hydropower, and the choice really isn’t between other alternatives and dams, it is a choice between power and no power. Once a dam is built they often can be run with a few individuals and if there are major problems you can bring someone in to fix them. You don’t need to find coal or fuel oil (which moves in price and is denominated in dollars that the country often doesn’t have). On the other hand, complex machinery and distribution systems can’t be left in the hands of areas with revolutionary governments and broken economies because in short order they are often taken apart and destroyed.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, United Nations | 23 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 7th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Knitted footwear…may have significant implications for the global shoe industry

    US Civil Rights commissioner uses “science” to argue for restricting the free speech rights of college students.  (Is anyone surprised that he was formerly an aide to Nancy Pelosi?)

    College professor accuses program about gardening of being “racist”

    Functional geniuses and business idiots

    Fuel cells as a major energy source:  for real this time?

    Sea and sand from the sky.  More here.

    The Social Pathologist is back!

    Posted in Academia, Business, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Photos | 13 Comments »

    A Compendium of Useful Reminders to be Consulted in Moments of Confusion

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 1st June 2014 (All posts by )

    Judging by what I see communicated by many of my longtime friends, there are a whole lot of confused people out there these days. Here is a helpful list for them:

    1. Only a small minority of projects, even in relatively successful organizations in highly competitive industries, deliver their promised scope, on time, within budget. A large majority are drastically scaled back, incur huge cost overruns, deliver years later than intended, or are canceled outright. Anything nefarious either fails or is publicized by whistle-blowers or investigators. There are no secret, vast criminal enterprises pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace, and the best-known entities in society, both public and private, can be astonishingly inept.
    2. Large publicly-funded initiatives, other than those intimately connected to the physical survival of the societies in which they are undertaken, are quite likely to be mainly for show, irrespective of their supposedly spectacular significance. The current American example is the ACA, which has not resulted (and almost certainly will not result) in either greater insurance coverage or lower costs, is notoriously not a fully government-operated, “single-payer” system, and has no pathway to lead to one. None of this matters; indeed, many of its provisions, if they ever go into effect, will do so only after the current Administration has departed from the scene. All that matters is that its perpetrators get to claim to have passed “historic” legislation ostensibly providing “universal” health care. For an example from an earlier generation, see the Space Shuttle, which was supposed to fly 50-60 times per year at $5.5 million per launch. The actual flight rate hovered around a tenth of what was promised, and each launch cost nearly a hundred times the original projection. Hilariously, President Obama is now being criticized for ending this, even though it was collapsing from its own weight and consisted mainly of workfare jobs in Republican congressional districts.
    3. Notwithstanding phenomena like the above, the United States is probably the most successful large-population country in the world due to its sheer realism, in particular the relative openness and process orientation of English common law, which (to quote myself) “rather than construct elegant theories and then shoehorn (or bludgeon) societies into an unchanging mold,” exhibits “a willingness to work with the world and human nature as it is.”
    4. Even ignoring the fantastic technological advances, quality of life in the US has improved immensely in the past two decades. Social pathologies have plummeted. The rates of some categories of crime are down 90%, to all-time recorded lows. There are now fewer abortions per capita than at the time of Roe v Wade. Probably three-quarters of Americans live in neighborhoods where violent crime is effectively nonexistent. And the worst labor market in 80 years has done nothing to reverse these trends.
    5. Large-scale, institutionalized technologies range from the very safe (electric-power generation [including nuclear] and transmission) to the so-safe-there-is-no-instance-of-recorded-harm (agricultural genetic engineering). The problem is that in much of the real (that is, Third) world, they are insufficiently available to provide the thoughtless, comfortable existence that pervades most of the West. Living “off the grid” / following a soi–disant “natural” lifestyle is a plaything of rich people who can slink away into town whenever they get tired of hewing wood and drawing water. Especially water with enterotoxigenic E. coli in it.
    6. Pharmaceutical companies are not trying to kill you, nor to provoke health crises to sell new drugs. They may in some instances be trying to convince you that your life depends on continuing to purchase their products, whether it actually does or not. Then again, so is the “health food” store down the street, and in all likelihood, what it’s pushing is far more dangerous.
    7. All religions are not equal. The general heuristic is to judge them by their effects, or at least by their efforts. Those prescribing global expansion through conquest and coercive displacement, and those (especially if they don’t refer to themselves as religions) prescribing the extermination of followers of other religions, are particularly problematic.
    8. Any conspiracy theory that mentions the Mossad, Rothschilds, etc, is every bit as viciously anti-Semitic as Mein Kampf and should be treated as such. Anyone expressing admiration for Marxist notions and personages is no better. Conspiracy theories involving the CIA quaintly ignore the NSA (which is ~6x larger) and, in any case, descend from Stalinist and Maoist propaganda during the early Cold War and the Korean War. Facile anger about the NSA, however, ignores its well-publicized activities with the analog wireline telecommunications of 30-40 years ago, as amply documented in Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace. The phenomena of Wikileaks and Snowden’s massive data theft are an existence proof that such activities can neither be kept secret nor have much influence on real-world events; as someone who read through the supposedly devastating Wikileaks cables remarked, “[American diplomats] sound like Canadians with better access.”
    9. No amount of “smart diplomacy” or supposed avoidance of provocation will protect a country from attack. Only a convincing ability to make an attack more trouble than it could possibly be worth can do that, and even such an ability may be insufficient to deter non-state actors and small groups. In combination with steadily declining costs of dual-use technologies, a more-or-less freelance WMD attack somewhere in the world seems inevitable. When it occurs, the greatest hazards to the immediate survivors will be 1) official overreaction, as by ordering the evacuation of a far larger area than was actually affected and 2) popular derangement, which in the worst-case scenario may create a conspiracy theory popular enough to put an extremist political movement in power, even in a large, democratic nation.

    Commenters are encouraged to provide additional examples and corollaries.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Current Events, Energy & Power Generation, Health Care, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Management, Military Affairs, National Security, Organizational Analysis, Predictions, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA, War and Peace | 17 Comments »

    Of Energy and Slavery

    Posted by David Foster on 29th April 2014 (All posts by )

    Christopher Hayes, who writes at The Nation, sees a connection between human slavery–in particular, human slavery as practiced in the US prior to 1865–and the use of fossil fuels. Specifically, he argues that the reluctance of energy companies and their investors to lose the financial value of their fossil-fuel assets is directly analogous to the reluctance of pre-Civil-War southern slaveholders to lose the financial value of their human “property”…and he goes on the assert that environmentalists attacking the use of fossil fuels are in a moral and tactical position similar to that of the pre-war Abolitionists.

    His article reminded me of a few things.

    1) Sometime around 1900, a young  PR man who had recently been hired by GE in Schenectady realized that he had a problem. He had gotten his job through glowing promises about all the great press coverage he would get for the company.  But his boss had called him in and announced that he had “a terrific front-page story” about a 60,000 kilowatt turbine generator that the company had just sold to Commonwealth Edison…and the PR man accurately realized that this story would get maybe a paragraph on the financial pages.  Looking for ideas, he went to see GE’s legendary research genius, Charles Steinmetz, explaining that headlines need drama, and “there’s nothing dramatic about a generator.”

    Steinmetz picked up a pencil and did a little calculating…and quickly determined that this one rotating machine could do as much physical work as 5.4 million men. The slave population in the US on the eve of the Civil War had been 4.7 million.  To the young PR man, Steinmetz said: “I suggest you send out a story that says we are building a single machine that, through the miracle of electricity, will each day do more work than the combined slave population of the nation at the time of the Civil War.”

    2) Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, visited a shipyard in New Bedford shortly after obtaining his freedom.  Here are his comments on observing a cargo being unloaded:

    In a southern port, twenty or thirty hands would have been employed to do what five or six did here, with the aid of a single ox attached to the end of a fall. Main strength, unassisted by skill, is slavery’s method of labor. An old ox, worth eighty dollars, was doing, in New Bedford, what would have required fifteen thousand dollars worth of human bones and muscles to have performed in a southern port.

    3)  Speaking of GE…Owen Young was a farm boy who grew up to become Chairman of that company.  To his biographer (Ida Tarbell), he provided a vivid word-picture of what life had been like for a farm wife back in the slightly earlier times. Here, he remembers Monday–wash day:

    He drew from his memory a vivid picture of its miseries: the milk coming into the house from the barn; the skimming to be done; the pans and buckets to be washed; the churn waiting attention; the wash boiler on the stove while the wash tub and its back-breaking device, the washboard, stood by; the kitchen full of steam; hungry men at the door anxious to get at the day’s work and one pale, tired, and discouraged woman in the midst of this confusion.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Leftism, Tech | 31 Comments »

    Random Links

    Posted by Jonathan on 1st March 2014 (All posts by )

    Will Israel Be the Next Energy Superpower? – A balanced, thoughtful look at recent developments from Arthur Herman. There is cause for optimism.

    Wildlife photographer pleads guilty to violating Endangered Species Act – The gist of the story is that some guy was photographing “endangered” birds from less than 500 feet away, which apparently is a violation of the Endangered Species Act, and was turned in to the feds by zealous environmentalists who saw him do this. Of course he copped a plea. If he had taken his chances in court he could have ended up in jail for years. As it is he may still do time and will end up with a felony conviction and probably a big fine to make an example of him. The birds he supposedly harassed aren’t even rare, merely locally rare in Florida, and he didn’t harm any of them. At most he should have been fined a few hundred bucks and warned to stay farther away from the wildlife. But nowadays everything is a federal crime with draconian penalties, and you can’t fart in a wetland without violating some rule. And the enforcement agencies have to justify their budgets. He should have left the birds alone, but his punishment is cruelly excessive. Some of the comments in response to the article are remarkably heartless. Not just the EPA but also the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Park Service deserve substantial defunding.

    Possibly my best blog post ever.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Humor, Israel, Law, Law Enforcement | 10 Comments »

    Pollution In India

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th January 2014 (All posts by )

    The NY Times recently had an article about the high levels of pollution in India’s capital city, Delhi.

    Beijing’s air pollution has reached such toxic levels recently that the Chinese government is finally acknowledging the problem – and acting on it. But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action.

    When I was in India in late 2012 I too was overwhelmed and amazed by the level of smog and pollution in the capital. When you blew your nose, particulate matter came out in your snot. This photo taken below is out the window of our tour bus and you could not see large office buildings along the roadside a few hundred feet away.

    The tuk-tuk in the photo (it is a three wheeled semi-motorcycle used as a taxi) is green and yellow because those are the official colors of vehicles using CNG, designed to reduce pollution, which are also used for city buses. Unfortunately the streets are clogged with traditional gas powered vehicles and myriad ancient looking diesel trucks which more than make up the difference.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in China, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, India | 7 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 17th January 2014 (All posts by )

    One more batch…

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?

    301 Years of Steam Power. What they told you in school about James Watt and the invention of the steam engine was very likely wrong.  Related: 175 Years of Transatlantic Steam.

    An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?

    The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.

    Book and Video Reviews:

    Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.

    Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.

    Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.

    Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Human Behavior, Military Affairs, Political Philosophy, Tech, Transportation, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2014 (All posts by )

    A Winter’s Tale. An appropriate post given today’s temperatures.

    Saint Alexander of Munich. Alexander Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

    Deconstructing a Nazi Death Sentence. The transcript of the verdict passed by the “People’s Court” on members of the White Rose provides a window into the totalitarian mind.

    Despicable. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade.

    Appropriate Reading and Viewing for Obama’s Surveillance State.

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12.

    Some 3-D Printing Links.

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Christianity, Current Events, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Israel, Obama, Philosophy, Religion, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Attention Brits: There Are Expanding Career Opportunities For You…

    Posted by David Foster on 14th November 2013 (All posts by )

    …in the fields of chimney-sweeping and firewood sales.

    Some of this is just because people enjoy having and using a fireplace, which is good…much of it, though, is apparently because people can’t afford to heat their houses due to increasing energy prices, which is not so good.

    I wrote about similar phenomena in Germany, here.

    Posted in Britain, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Germany | 13 Comments »

    Looks Interesting

    Posted by David Foster on 17th October 2013 (All posts by )

    Here’s a new study from GE: The Age of Gas & the Power of Networks. I haven’t read it yet, but looks like it contains some useful data and some interesting thinking.

    Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, USA | 10 Comments »

    Power and Oil

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 30th September 2013 (All posts by )

    In the NY Times they had an article on the possible partition of Middle Eastern countries in the wake of the Syrian uprising. It long has been taught that the borders of the Middle East are a “mistake” made by the Western powers when they carved the region up amongst themselves. The unspoken message is that all the “troubles” in the area would have been avoided had the Western powers split the countries up according to tribal, religious or other lines that could have resulted in more cohesive states. Much of this may be true – many of the borders appear arbitrary – and yet lands and territories changed hands many times across the historical record.

    An area of interest to me is Eastern Saudi Arabia, which the NY Times listed (as conjecture) as possibly a separate country. On many dimensions that is logical; the population of that province has a large Shiite composition and this makes it distinct from the rest of Saudi Arabia (which is supposedly 95% Sunni, although figures are not necessarily to be trusted). Historically these Shiites faced heavy discrimination, (data is sketchy and incomplete) as summarized in this wikipedia article:

    They have usually been denounced as heretics, traitors, and non-Muslims. Shias were accused of sabotage, most notably for bombing oil pipelines in 1988. A number of Shias were even executed. In response to Iran’s militancy, the Saudi government collectively punished the Shia community in Saudi Arabia by placing restrictions on their freedoms and marginalizing them economically.Wahabi ulama were given the green light to sanction violence against the Shia. What followed were fatwas passed by the country’s leading cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz which denounced the Shias as apostates. Another by Adul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama even sanctioned the killing of Shias. This call was reiterated in Wahabi religious literature as late as 2002.

    While these sorts of oppressive behaviors on the parts of the majority are generally tied to rebellion and are logical for the NY Times to think of as possible separate states, this neglects the key fact that the world’s largest oil field, the Ghawar Field, is located in that province. The idea that the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia would give up their oil, which accounts for 80% of revenues, is incredibly naive. The Saudis would never give up their oil, for it is the sole engine of their economy and standard of living. It isn’t known what they’d do if there was a serious rebellion in the area, but I would have to assume that they would take whatever steps were necessary to curtail it and keep the oil flowing. It should be relatively easy for the Saudi government to accomplish this due to their wealth and strength in numbers.

    One way to do this would be just to hire mercenaries, which is a tool that the (minority) government in Bahrain is using to hold onto power. Bahrain’s situation is trickier since the Sunni government is a minority in this oil-rich country, but the use of force and violence has been enough to keep the rebellion at bay. One tool for the Bahrain government has been to hire Sunni mercenaries:

    For decades, the Bahraini authorities have been recruiting Sunni foreign nationals in the security forces from different countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq (Ba’athists), Yemen and Pakistan (Baluch) in order to confront any popular movement that usually comes from the Shia majority.

    The idea that governments will give up valuable resources in the name of minority rights is a laughable Western idea. The NY Times map is a non-starter. The wealthy and powerful will not give up the (sole) source of their wealth without a tremendous fight from a determined and powerful enemy.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Energy & Power Generation, History, Middle East | 10 Comments »

    301 Years of Steam Power

    Posted by David Foster on 15th September 2013 (All posts by )

    In 1712, Thomas Newcomen erected a steam engine of his own design near Dudley, in the West Midlands of England, thereby kicking off the age of steam. (Yes, this would have made a better post last year, to mark a round 300-year anniversary, but better late than never..)

    We were told in the 5th grade that the steam engine had been invented by James Watt after noticing the way that the steam pressure in a teapot could cause the lid to lift a little. A nice story, but (a) James Watt did not invent the steam engine, and (b) early steam engines did not work the way that the teapot story would suggest.

    In ancient Greece there were some experiments with the use of steam power to create mechanical motion; thereafter nothing significant happened in this field until the late 1600s, when Thomas Savery invented a device for raising water by steam: it was intended to address the growing problem of removing water from mines. Savery’s invention was conceptually elegant, with no moving parts other than the valves: unfortunately, it could not handle a water lift of more than about 30 feet, which was far insufficient for the very deep mines which were then becoming increasingly common.

    Newcomen’s engine filled a cylinder with low-pressure steam, which was then abruptly cooled by the injection of a water jet. This created a partial vacuum, which pulled the piston down with great force–these were called “atmospheric” engines, because the direct motive force came from air pressure, with the role of the steam being simply to create the vacuum when condensed. After the piston reached the bottom of the cylinder, it would be pulled upwards by a counterweight, and the cycle would repeat. (See animation here.)  Conceptually simple, but modern reconstructors have found it quite difficult to get all the details right and build an engine that will actually work.

    These engines were extremely inefficient, real coal hogs, requiring about 25 pounds of coal per horsepower per hour. They were employed primarily for water removal at coal mines, where coal was by definition readily available and was relatively cheap. But as the cotton milling industry grew, and good water-power sites to power the machinery became increasingly scarce, Newcomen engines were also employed for that service. For example, in 1783 a cotton mill–complete with a 30-foot waterwheel–was constructed at Shudhill, near Manchester..which seemed odd given that there was no large stream or river there to drive it. The mill entrepreneurs built two storage ponds at different levels, with the waterwheel in between them, and installed a Newcomen engine to recycle the water continuously. The engine was very large–with a cylinder 64 inches in diameter and a stroke of more than 7 feet–and consumed five tons of coal per day.

    Despite their tremendous coal consumption and their high first cost, a considerable number of these engines were installed, enough that someone in 1789 referred to the Newcomen and Savery engines in the Manchester area as common old smoaking engines. The alternative to the Newcomen engine described above would have been the use of actual horses–probably at least 100 of them, if my guesstimate of 40 horsepower for this engine is correct. These early engines resembled the mainframe computers of the early 1950s, in that they were bulky, expensive, resource-intensive, and limited in their fields of practical applicability…but, within those fields, absolutely invaluable.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Energy & Power Generation, History, Tech, Uncategorized | 12 Comments »