Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

What Would Happen if the Government ran BP?

July 26, 2010

BP’s oil leak in the Gulf has been stopped. When the leak started, due to a massive explosion of a drilling rig, BP told us that it would take 90 days to plug the leak. It took 85. When Barack Obama became president he told us that fixing the financial system was his number one goal. It took him 18 months and he still has half the job left (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are excluded from this new financial bill). The oil leak can be monitored to see if it is leaking, the financial system now has more laws whose effects can never be understood or controlled. Ironically, government scientists slowed down the final days of plugging the leak because they were afraid something might blow up, at the same time ex-president Clinton suggested we blow up the well with a nuclear bomb. Thank God he isn’t the president any more. BTW, the technology used to install a new blowout protector onto the broken one a mile down in the ocean is incredible. The engineers on the project, those that designed and fabricated the ultimate solution, and those that operating the remove control robots should get an award from the government. Instead I except you will hear moaning of the next few years about why things couldn’t have gone smoother or faster.

Einstein: e=mc^2; EPA: e=2.5mc^2

September 25, 2009

I have been trying to reconcile the latest claims by GM and now Nissan that they have electric cars that get the equivalent of 230 mpg and more.  My previous post on energy facts was based on my understanding of the science of physics, but I was worried that maybe I was missing something. My calculations showed that a typical Prius-sized electric vehicle should get around 100mpg equivalent, assuming a conversion efficiency of 100%.  Typical conversion efficiencies of fossil fuels are closer to 40% or 50% in the best case so the real equivalency is more like 50 mpg.  So where did I go wrong?

A couple days ago I read a magazine, Design News, that had been sitting on my desk for a few weeks. There was an interesting article about the 230 mpg Volt. One line in the article confused me: the EPA uses an energy density for gasoline of 82 kwhr/gallon. Strange. I used 34.5. Maybe I was wrong….  I looked at many sources including the DOE and NIST and sure enough, the energy density of gasoline is around 34 kwhr/gallon depending on the exact formulation (in California it is lower, for example).

Next I looked up the EPA conversion factor of 82 (about 2.5 times the actual energy density) to see where they came up with that. I found it in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulation, Title 10, Section 474.3: “If the electric vehicle does not have any petroleum-powered accessories installed, the value of the petroleum equivalency factor is 82,049 Watt-hours per gallon.” So the EPA has decided that the laws of physics are not good enough for them, they need to favor electric vehicle hype by a factor of 2.5. What a fraud.

I then read the “Purpose and Scope” of this distorted computation: “The petroleum-equivalent fuel economy value is intended to be used by the Environmental Protection Agency in calculating corporate average fuel economy values pursuant to regulations at 40 CFR Part 600—Fuel Economy of Motor Vehicles.” Translation: if you sell one electric car then you can sell 20 20mpg cars and claim an average of 30 mpg for your fleet. No wonder GM wants to sell electric cars.

But why would the EPA want electric cars?  They pollute more than hybrid cars because they essentially burn coal, which is known to be the dirtiest source of electric power. I will check and see if I can find the answer to this question on the Internet.


I found the original DOE memo detailing how the electric vehicle equivalency was computed, Petroleum-Equivalent Fuel Economy Calculation dated June 12, 2000. The analysis, by the DOE, starts off in a very reasonable way. The relative efficiency of burning fuel in an engine versus burning it in a power plant is computed yielding a net efficiency for electric power production of 35%, which is exactly what I used in my analysis in an earlier blog Energy Facts. So far so good. Next they multiply this number by 6.67. What? They call it they “Fuel Content” (the quotes are theirs). Here is the reason from the document:

The fuel content factor has a value of 1/0.15 and is included in
the PEF for the reasons described in the notice of proposed rulemaking
and the responses to comments section of this notice. Briefly, these
reasons are:
    (i) Consistency with existing regulatory and statutory procedures;
    (ii) Provision of similar treatment to manufacturers of all types
of alternative fuel vehicles; and
    (iii) Simplicity and ease of use.
The fuel content factor value of 1/0.15 is equivalent to a multiple
of 6.67.

Translation: we lie about electric cars to be consistent with the lies we tell about other politically correct vehicles. One interesting note about this lie: in the comment sections some of the electric power companies want to be a bit more honest about the factor of 6.67, but the California Air Resources Board wants be lie even more:

Comment 6: Assigning one fuel content factor (1/0.15) to all
alternative fuel vehicles is inappropriate since ``the fuel efficiency
benefits of electric vehicles far exceed those of other alternative
fuel vehicles.'' DOE should use a fuel content factor that more
accurately represents electric vehicle benefits in comparison to other
alternative fuels. (CARB)

Energy Facts

May 3, 2009

I’ve been looking on the Internet for facts on energy usage including alternative energies and alternative fuels for cars. Most of what I’ve found is propaganda, and I don’t believe it. The solar people try to sell you that your electric meter will run backwards and you’ll make money. The electric car people call their cars “zero emission” and claim it will cost you pennies a mile to drive them. I analyzed some real data provided by the DOE, DOT, and other sources and computed some answers using simple math.

Total U.S. yearly electric power generation/consumption 5,000,000,000,000 kWh
Total U.S. Households 120,000,000
Total electrical power per household 4,756 W
Yearly electrical consumption  by households 1,300,000,000,000 kWh
Consumption per household by households 1,237 W
% of total electrical consumption by households 26.0%
U.S. Gallons of gasoline consumed per year 142,000,000,000 gallons
Energy in a gallon of gasoline 34.50 kWh/gal
Vehicle miles travelled/year 3,000,000,000,000 miles
cars/light trucks 2,775,000,000,000 miles
big rigs 225,000,000,000 miles
Average miles/gallon for cars/light trucks 19.54 mpg
Total energy in gasoline consumed per year 4,899,000,000,000 kWh
Hybrid (i.e. Toyota Prius)
efficiency of hybrid gasoline engine 35.0%
hybrid miles/kWh 4 miles/kWh
mpg of a hybrid 48 mpg
efficiency of average car 20.0%
efficiency of gasoline generator (8kw) 35.0%
efficiency of a coal burning power plant 40.0%
efficiency of a coal burning power plant after distribution network 37.1%
Registered Vehicles in U.S. (2007) 247,264,605 vehicles
Registered Cars in U.S. (2007) 135,932,930 vehicles
Registered Trucks in U.S. (2007) 110,497,239 vehicles
Electric car – typical miles/kWh 3.00 miles/KWh
Equivalent mpg for typical electric car @ 100% efficient engine 103.50 miles/gallon
Equivalent mpg for typical electric car @ coal efficiency power production 38.42 miles/gallon
Losses in Power grid 7.2%
Additional electrical power generation required for all electric cars 996,767,241,379 kWh
% increase in total electrical generation needed for electric cars 19.9%
% increase in household electricity usage for electric cars 76.7%

That’s a lot of numbers.

The first interesting number is that 26% of electrical energy use is in households, the rest is for commercial and industrial purposes. I started this simple analysis when I read a story on Wikipedia about solar energy plants in the Mojave desert. In the same article it said that one solar power plant that delivers 350MW could power 500K households while another 550MW plant could only power 400K households. They obviously assumed a different value for household usage, so I asked myself: which is correct?  I looked up on the DOE web site and found that on average a U.S. household consumes about 1200W (10,500kWh/year).  But 1200W is only 1/4 of the overall power consumed on a per household basis.  So a 550MW plant, which would be the biggest solar plant ever built at a huge cost, would supply power for a community of about 90K households and businesses, much fewer than either the 400K or 500K quoted in Wikipedia.  In fact that 550MW plant couldn’t even power the smallest of cities because it provides no power when the sun doesn’t shine, for example at night or on cloudy days. So in fact saying that the solar plant can provide power for even a single household is misleading. Except for remote cabins with huge batteries, solar does not provide primary power. Solar can only be used to reduce peak power consumption during the daytime, which is certainly a need, but not a primary need.

The second question that I have always wondered about is much energy is used in the form of electricity versus how much is used for cars. After doing some simple math I found that the amount of energy used by cars over one year is roughly the same as the amount of electrical energy produced over one year. That was unexpected. Unfortunately, the useful energy that we derive from gasoline is only 20% of the total energy because of the efficiency of the average car. If we move to hybrid cars this efficiency goes up to about 35% which would reduce the energy needed by cars, that is the amount of gasoline consumed, to 57% (a little more than half) of the current level. Some newer non-hybrid engines can also achieve this higher efficiency. A 50% reduction in gasoline usage would be a huge help both for global warming and for energy security, but what if we want to go further. Enter the electric car.

There is no free lunch with the electric car, it still requires electricity to run and where do we get that electricity?  From coal and gas burning power plants for the most part. So how to we compare the performance of electric cars with gasoline powered cars?  That is a very difficult question because while there are 250 million registered gasoline power cars in the U.S. today, there are less than 100 thousand electric vehicle and those are all basically golf carts of one sort or another (the term of art is “neighborhood electric vehicles”). The equivalent to mpg for electric vehilces is miles/kWh. While small vehicles can have miles/kWh of 5 or even higher, the unanswered question is what would the equivalent miles/kWh be for the entire fleet of 250 million gasoline power cars if they all converted to electric cars. For my analysis I chose a very generous 3 miles/kWh, which I’m sure the electric car advocates would say is low. But if you consider that a Prius is a 4, chosing a 3 means that the average car would be a little bit bigger than a Prius, which is obviously not the case today.

So that what is the bottom line about how much fossil fuel can be saved moving to electric vehicles? The answer can be seen by looking at the efficiency of those coal and gas burning plants. Turns out coal and gas plants have about the same efficiency (35% or maybe up to 40% for the newest designs) as a well designed hybrid gasoline power engine. So that means that electric powered vehicles are really coal power vehicles generating pretty much the same amount of greenhouse gasses as hybrid vehicles. But the amount of other crap, like radioactive isotopes, that come from burning coal is much worse than burning gasoline. The bottom line is that it looks like electric cars pollute much more than hybrids. On the outside, electric cars are promoted as the ultimate in clean, but on the inside they are very dirty things. The only hope for electric cars is nuclear power, which would truely provide a “zero-emission” vehicle, but would also pollute the ideology of the electric car.

A final note on the electric car. My analysis shows that you can expect your electricty usage to almost double if you use one, so make sure you get the cheapest electricity rate you can.

700 Billion

October 1, 2008

This week the news is all about the $700 billion bailout/rescue proposed by Treasury department to fix a perceived “credit crisis.” We all look to the stock market to see the health of our economy and the stock market hasn’t looked good. But, the market hasn’t looked horrible either, certainly not anything that needs a $700B bailout bill. In fact, the market goes up, goes down, goes up, goes down. This isn’t tell us anything. If the Government wants to explain the crisis it has to find something simple, like the Dow Jones average, that shows the problem. I haven’t seen that yet. I don’t know if it exists.

$700 billion came up a few weeks ago, too, in ads from T. Boone Pickens. The $700 billion that we are massively pissed off at giving to Wall Street is the same $700 billion (according to Pickens) that we will pay, every year, to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia and lots of other corrupt, antagonistic, and socialistic countries for their oil. Apparently socialists don’t care so much about global warming or drilling. They like the money we give them.

T. Boone Pickens is a tricky guy. His plan is to use CNG, compressed natural gas (not a “green” solution by modern green standards), as a transportation fuel instead of (in addition too, actually) oil. We have lots of natural gas, but we use it for generating electricity, so he needed to find an alternative energy source for generating electricity. He picked wind. That was the tricky part. You see, by picking wind he is appealing to the “greenies,” our newest religious fanatics. I think T. knows that wind energy will not work, but he figures that showing commercials with windmills will get much more exposure, if not approval, for his plan than showing plumbs of burning natural gas.

Right now there are only two credible transportation fuels (oil and natural gas) and three credible electricity producing fuels (coal, natural gas, and nuclear). The other so-called alternative energy sources do not and cannot produce electricity reliably enough for a modern industrial nation.

The biggest irony of the $700B bailout bill that “taxpayers” are going to have to repay is that only a small number of “taxpayers” are going to pay it. Why? because only a small number of people actually pay the majority of income taxes. On the other hand, the $700B (or whatever the real number turns out to be) in extra gas prices will be paid by everyone, every year, until someone steps up to sell the U.S. public the truth – the only energy source that will bring cheap and clean energy back to the U.S. is nuclear power.

Obama’s Bridge To Nowhere

September 18, 2008

Bill Clinton used his “Bridge to the Future” to defeat Bob Dole 12 years ago. In this campaign we again hear about a bridge, this one to nowhere. The “Bridge to Nowhere” was originally a metaphor for Government waste. Why build a $400M bridge to connect 500 people to the mainland? Good question. That bridge was never built, but some of that money was used to build roads and other structures that were actually needed.

The “Bridge to Nowhere” has new meaning in this election. Candidates such as Obama are thinking of allowing some limited drilling for oil as a bridge to green energy. The idea here is that green energy will happen in 10 years because of some yet unknown and unknowable invention or discovery. We need the time and the oil, then, to get to this panacea. My view is that this is the real “Bridge to Nowhere.”

A serious analysis in Scientific American (i.e. the authors are seriously promoting their work) of how a solar-based power system for the U.S. might work shows that we would need to cover 165,000 square miles of the southwest with solar panels. I don’t know if this includes cloudy days. Just for reference, Arizona is 114,000 square miles. Implementing the system would require over 40 years and need technologies that currently do not exist. Obama is promoting this bridge to nowhere.

On the other hand, nuclear power plants that reprocess their fuel would yield more electrical power in a smaller space, and could be distributed over the whole country. By reprocessing fuel in place, there is no need to transport or store nuclear waste. Yucca mountain would be obsolete. McCain is promoting such power plants. They were banned in the Carter administration because of Carter’s 12 year old daughter’s fear of nuclear proliferation.

The Democratic party’s position on nuclear power is either uninformed or irrational. They are against all forms of nuclear power. Obama is talking out of both sides of his mouth regarding nuclear power, sometimes he seems to support it, other times he seems to be against it. Will Obama fight against his own party and lead us over the bridge to a nuclear powered future? I doubt. His bridge leads to nowhere.

Have a Nice Dinner

August 27, 2008

The Democratic National Convention started yesterday and I’m bored already. So far the only interesting speech was given by Obama’s daughter who asked her dad, “Where you are Daddy?” Apparently she knew where he was, but he didn’t. The keynote speaker today said that we are engaged in a “race to the future”. What does that mean? Most people over 30 are trying to keep the future as far away as possible. But guess what, the future will always going to happen, 10 minutes will happen 10 minutes from now.

Then the Governor of Montana came on and said that McCain voted against solar energy 26 times. What does that mean? I doubt that McCain voted to make solar energy illegal, as many Democrats (and some Republicans) had voted to make nuclear power illegal, to make reprocessing plants for nuclear fuel illegal, to make the storage of nuclear waste illegal, to make new offshore drilling for oil illegal, etc.. Perhaps what he meant was the McCain voted against spending billions and billions of Federal money on programs that promised to make “commercial” success of solar and wind power. I can believe that. but that hasn’t stopped people from building solar plants or wind turbine farms. My guess is that the first bill in Congress to make wind farms illegal will come from Democratic sponsors in the name of conservation.

But the funniest line so far was given by Chuck Schumer who, when being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News was asked whether he (O’Reilly) should stick around to hear Hillary Clinton’s speech or go to dinner. Schumer when saying his goodbye after 5 minutes of postulating about what Hillary was going to say, told O’Reilly: “Have a nice dinner.” I took his advise too.

CNN: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

August 1, 2008

I just finished listening to a piece on CNN (Wolf Blitzer filling in on AC360) which claimed to “tell the truth” about whether record profits by oil companies have an effect on the price of gasoline. Guess what? They never answered that simple question. This was their presentation:

1. They had a counter on the TV screen showing second by second how much profit Exxon is making.

2. They “interviewed” a Democratic politician who claimed that oil companies are spending their profits by increasing their dividends and their share price not by investing in other energy sources. They pointing out that Exxon gave $10B back to shareholders insinuating that this was evil in some way. That leaves $5B to $30B of profits totally unexplained. Why the range? Because CNN wasn’t clear about whether the $10B was on an annual basis or just for the quarter.

3. They “interviewed” an oil company spokesman who claimed that 75% of the price of gasoline is for the crude oil. This would imply that Exxon doesn’t make any money on this 75%, and it ships, refines, and distributes oil and takes their profits all from the other 25%. I don’t think this is true. I think the reason that the oil companies profits are increasing are because they make money on the crude oil side, not because of any money they make on the refining side. CNN didn’t ask, I couldn’t tell.

4. They looked at the counter at the end of their piece and made some cracks about the size of the “windfall.” It was about $800K.

That was their report. Maybe I misunderstood the question, but I thought they were going to figure out how much profit Exxon makes on a per gallon basis. I realize that this requires ACTUAL research, but then CNN must have an internet connection somewhere.

I decided to use the internet to figure out the answer:

According to Exxon’s 2007 annual report, Exxon had $404B in revenue. Of that revenue, they paid about $200B for the crude oil, $61B for operations and other expenses, and $103B in taxes and duties. That leaves about a $40B profit. The U.S. consumes about 150B gallons of gasoline per year, so if the U.S. were to take ALL of Exxon’s profits (not just the “windfall” profits) then it could give back about $0.25 per gallon. Of course, Exxon would be out of business. My guess is that the “windfall” that Congress could get would be closer to $7B, and that would mean less than 5 cents per gallon.

It took me a whole hour to get that information, most of which was spent downloading Exxon’s 57 Megabyte annual report (my internet connection is really slow). Maybe Al Gore can explain this internet thing to CNN.

Carbon Dioxide Sequestration

July 21, 2008

There is talk about making coal “clean” by sequestering, into the ground, the carbon dioxide produced by coal-burning electric power plants. This reminds me of the Yucca mountain debate about sequestering spent nuclear fuel. The Yucca mountain project, which environmentalists consider one of the most dangerous Government programs ever, would store about 3 Ktons of dangerous radioactive material a year, 2 Ktons of waste from plants operating today, plus about 50 Ktons of waste generated since the inception of nuclear power. For coal we would need to store more than 2,000,000 Ktons of waste per year. If we could find a site to store that much carbon dioxide, then we could certainly store all the nuclear waste we could ever produce.

One other interesting fact about nuclear waste. It turns out a coal burning plant puts out about 100 times more radiation than an equivalent nuclear plant. Here is a reference for those who don’t believe me: CoalNuclearComparison

You ever hear any of this on the news?

Robert Kennedy on Larry King

July 7, 2008

Today I watched Larry King (a rerun) and he had on Robert Kennedy (son of the late Robert Kennedy). Mr. Kennedy made some pretty outrageous statements, but none was more outrageous than “the oil industry receives a $1 trillion sudsidy from the U.S. Government, and the coal industry receives about the same.”

Calling Kennedy an idiot would be giving him the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure he knows that the budget of the U.S. is $2.9 Trillion and the GDP of the U.S. is $12 Trillion. According to him, therefore, almost the entire U.S. budget is really just a subsidy to the oil and coal companies. Social Security – a subsidy to ensure that old people can buy gas, maybe? I don’t understand why someone didn’t challenge him. There was the CEO of Chevron and John Stossel, both who, I’m sure, knew what he was saying was bullshit. But there was silence.

When Kennedy was asked about why he doesn’t support the windmill farm planned off the coast of his family’s summer home, he answered that he did support the windmills but he wants them moved someplace where they won’t interfere with the fishing industry. Where would that be exactly, Mr. Kennedy? In Saudi Arabia?

After some research I found the document that Mr. Kennedy must have used to inform himself on the issue of government subsidies: . The article essentially makes a case that the true cost of oil is $65 trillion a year, bigger than the GDP of the entire world. The author must have had the same Berkeley Economics professor I had.

I’d Rather Drill on Mars!

June 23, 2008

I listened today to one of those cable political shows that featured the regular crew of clueless pundits. After a long discussion on how evil the oil companies are, one asked a very simple question: Why is it that oil companies would rather drill is Saudi Arabia, in Iraq where a war is going on, in Nigeria where you need a armed escorts to go to the bathroom, than drill in the U.S? Everyone ignored the question. You would have thought that this was the first time someone had ever asked such a profound question on cable T.V.

On the surface the answer might be simple. Drilling here is impossible, as is building more refineries to process the oil. Impossible is a strong word, but in the case it is not strong enough. This country has killed oil internal exploration and exploitation at every level of government and every branch of government. With increased prices come calls to add even more restrictions, including the ultimate restriction: < 0% return on investment, guaranteed.

But the bigger answer to this question is perhaps is at the heart of a lot of what ails this country. You can see it in the current election cycle where the press has proclaimed the current winning slogans are “Hope” and “Change”. I see these two slogans as religious propaganda. Words that make you feel good, that someone better than you is going to make your life better. That the future is not in your hands, but in the hands of others. That physics is not as important as meta-physics.

It reminds me of my Berkeley Econ professor who basically said that inflation will go down if we all believe that it will go down. What followed was 50% inflation over the subsequent 5 years (the Carter administration).

I guess we didn’t believe enough until Reagan came into office.