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On Can the Complexities of Sugarcane Ethanol Imports Lead to Increased Carbon Emissions?

Excellent analysis and discussion here. It raises the larger question: Does the RFS make any sense, and should it be abandoned altogether?

Biofuels just seem like a bad bargain, no matter what the source.

April 11, 2014    View Comment    

On Norway's Investment Can Help End Energy Poverty

The kind of existing, distributed energy solutions that Guay is talking about here indeed can help alleviate energy poverty in some of the world's most disadvantaged regions. But the available renewable technologies are still too costly, inefficient, and unreliable to provide a real alternative to the conventional power grid. Poorer countries still need more of the latter to realize their economic development goals.

Hindering the potential of distributed, renewable energy systems to power larger-scale development is the lack of cost-effective, reliable energy storage technology. The International Energy Agency has emphasized the need to develop better storage solutions:

While some energy storage technologies are mature or near maturity, most are still in the early stages of development and currently struggle to compete with other non-storage technologies due to high costs. They will require additional attention before their potential can be fully realised.

For Norway or others with capital to invest, deploying more of the existing renewable energy technologies will not suffice to make clean energy truly cheap enough to displace fossil fuel options, or to help the poor rise from poverty. Not only a larger but a more productive effort in breakthrough technology innovation is needed. Moreover, an effective technology innovation effort that can have global impact and help poorer communities achieve prosperity needs to engage people in those communities not just as aid recipients but as collaborators. For more on that, see: Global warming needs global technology.  
March 28, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA Unlikely to Buy Argument that Keystone XL Will Not Worsen Climate Change: Agency Concerns Were Ignored

Bob, Fox News certainly is not an unbiased source. But the facts its report cites are consistent with other sources indicating a revolving-door, collusive relationship between EPA and zealous environmental groups -- a relationship even you concede exists.

Given that, the continual invocations of "EPA says" in the above article should be viewed as adding no particular credibility beyond "NRDC says" since the sources and their biases are essentially interchangeable.

March 25, 2014    View Comment    

On EPA Unlikely to Buy Argument that Keystone XL Will Not Worsen Climate Change: Agency Concerns Were Ignored

John Miller's exposure of the distortions in the article and the EPA-attributed comments is on target and welcome.

In assessing this NRDC broadside, also consider the relationship between advocacy organizations like NRDC and EPA staff:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-03-03/news/bs-ed-revolving-door-20140302_1_epa-officials-al-armendariz-natural-resources-defense-council

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/01/22/emails-show-cozy-relationship-between-epa-environmental-groups-on-keystone-coal/

 

 

March 21, 2014    View Comment    

On Photos: Is GE's Space Frame Tower the Future of Wind Power?

I agree that this is a nice solution. Back to the future? Combines technology from the Wright Brothers (fabric over frame) with structural ideas from Alexander Graham Bell and Buckminster Fuller:

Space frames were independently developed by Alexander Graham Bell around 1900 and Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s. Bell's interest was primarily in using them to make rigid frames for nautical and aeronautical engineering, with the tetrahedral truss being one of his inventions. However few of his designs were realised. Buckminster Fuller's focus was architectural structures; his work had greater influence.*

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_frame

March 14, 2014    View Comment    

On Will That $25 Light Bulb Really Save You Money?

As I have dabbled in LED shopping I've noticed a few things:

  • Prices in retail stores are considerably lower than the article suggests, as others mentioned here.

  • A bulb is not a bulb is not a bulb. That is, there is a somewhat confusing variety of LEDs of similar output designed for different purposes.For instance, some can be installed in recessed fixtures, some cannot. Some have heat sinks, some don't. Some are more directional than others. Combining complexity with nontrivial cost creates a barrier to consumer adoption.

  • Innovation itself may hinder adoption. LED technology is fast evolving, not only coming down in price but adding more features like color tuning, 'smart' controls. This is cool, but it confronts the consumer with the prospect that today's not-cheap bulb will be obsolete well before its rated lifetime is up. Another incentive to wait and see rather than buy now.

Market failure may yet present opportunities. The LED problems recall a time when music CDs were the main distribution medium and expensive. Retail shops emerged that bought and sold second-hand CDs. I can imagine something similar developing for LEDs.

February 22, 2014    View Comment    

On Winter Electricity Price Spikes Put Clean Currents Out of Business

Informative report by Katherine, and interesting comments.

My simple take-away: Good intentions are no substitute for good management.

February 22, 2014    View Comment    

On Reduce GHGs or Increase Energy Access?

Roger, I'd say that the issue may not be quite as simple as Pielke suggests. Most things involving energy tend to be complicated.

However, the gist of his point seems reasonable. By pursuing multiple, conflicting objectives, government actions often lead to suboptimal results

If the goal of US policy is to help Africa develop economically, and reduce poverty, there's no reason to focus aid exclusively on renewable energy options.

As for natural gas, this Ernst & Young report suggests that the potential for natural gas development in Africa is substantial:

http://www.ey.com/GL/en/Industries/Oil---Gas/Natural-gas-in-Africa-frontier-of-the-Golden-Age:

It may well be that in particular places in particular countries in Africa, investments in gas, oil, maybe even coal ('clean' or cleaner at least) could yield greater overall benefits per dollar than investments in wind farms, solar panels, and such.

Of course, as you and I both have noted, there certainly can be local circumstances where renewable/distributed energy solutions may be the most cost-effective.

This is where geopolitical considerations get more complex. One might posit that it could burnish the US image as a 'climate protection' advocate to cherry pick the productive renewable projects on which to target its investments. That might not handicap Africa's ascent from poverty if there were abundant other sources of investment available to support natural gas and other types of projects the USG spurns. But even if that were so, it still may not serve US strategic interests to indulge such a bias.

For one thing, China has the capacity and ambition to use investment as a strategic tool to further its influence in Africa (and elsewhere) in ways that often are contrary to US interests. Nor does the USG ceding potentially productive investments to other countries seem consistent with promoting US businesses, achieving positive trade balances, and so on.

President Obama's ethnic background notwithstanding, the Power Africa initiative seems another increment of the patronizing, failed "White Man's Burden" development strategy that William Easterly (among others) has criticized:

"Poverty never has been ended and never will be ended by foreign experts or foreign aid. Poverty will end as it has ended everywhere else, by homegrown political, economic, and social reformers and entrepreneurs that unleash the power of democracy and free markets."

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/jan/11/the-white-mans-burden/

February 10, 2014    View Comment    

On Reduce GHGs or Increase Energy Access?

"What people in Africa need is what very modest amounts of distributed power generation can deliver...."

This sounds patronizing, to put it mildly. You are suggesting that Africa should remain energy poor, hence economically poor, just somewhat less so.

Most Africans likely disagree, and rightly so.

It is fair to say that the specific requirements for economic development in many developing countries, including African, are more or less different from what they were in more developed countries in the past. The nature of the economy and of technological opportunities, as well as cultural/ecological contexts, are different and warrant different strategies.

It strikes me as instructive, for instance, that while the majority of people in Somalia lack access to clean water, virtually 100% of the population has cell phones. Using cell phones as payment devices is far more common in Africa than it is yet in the US and some other developed countries.

So there are opportunities in Africa and elsewhere to leapfrog their infrastructure and other economic assets to more advanced options; especially where there is little installed base of legacy structures. Distributed technologies -- like cell phones -- may offer different, more cost-effective opportunities for economic development than existed in the 20th or earlier centuries. And that well may apply to energy, water, and other types of infrastructure too.

But that is quite different from saying that Africans must be satisfied with perpetual austerity to 'save the planet.'

February 8, 2014    View Comment    

On Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Significantly Increase Carbon Emissions? The Numbers Behind the KXL Debate [UPDATED]

Comments by Miller and Styles are on target.

The gist of the matter as I see it:

There is no reason to think KXL will have any significant effect on carbon emissions. Oil delivered via KXL will be delivered by other means if need be, as it is now. The portion built within the US is already proceeding. The only remaining question is whether it will be connected to Canada. Not doing so would have an extremely negative effect on US-Canada relations, trade, and the economy as a whole, with no or even negative environmental benefit. Shipping by rail and ship entails a higher risk of accidents and spills, and is less energy efficient.

Moreover, the time is past due to bury the canard of US symbolic leadership re carbon emissions as invoked by Strand, Donnelly, et al. Where is the evidence that US symbolic leadership has altered the trajectory of geopolitics in other domains?

How has US strong support of Israel won other countries over to that cause, or stemmed the rising tide of anti-semitism in Europe and elsewhere? The US role was presumed essential to the initiative to overthrow Gaddaffi and supposedly bring peace and freedom to Libya. How has that worked out? Indeed, more broadly, how has either the assertion or caution of US leadership had any effect on the cultural/political turmoil in the middle east and central Asia more broadly? Having expended some multiple of a trillion dollars and thousands of military casualties over more than a decade of aggressive efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, what signficant transformation has the US and its partners accomplished?

The Obama administration aimed to 'reset' relations with Russia -- how is that going? To what extent has US leadership in the effort to curtail N. Korea's nuclear threat and its general trouble-making achieved its objective? And to what extent have the global wars on Terror and Drugs been won?

There seems no reason to believe that the US imposing economic sanctions on itself to combat carbon emissions -- in conflict with the overwhelming majority of the domestic public's preferences -- would in any way deter China, India, and other developing countries to continue to exploit fossil fuels to feed the growth of their economies as much as they deem necessary.

Instead, the needed focus of policy needs to be on accelerating technology innovation to make "clean energy cheap." Only when alternatives to fossil fuels are economically competitive -- without subsidies or mandates -- will the arc of carbon emissions be meaningfully altered. Any solution which curtails economic recovery and development, especially in the poorer countries, will continue to be unacceptable.

February 8, 2014    View Comment    

On Finite Resources and Infinite Growth

Leach is absolutely right in his conclusion: supposedly 'finite' resources do not limit the potential of economic growth.

But his argument emphasizes only part of the reason why, and not the most compelling one at that.

Economic growth is measured by the total value -- commonly expressed in monetary terms -- of all that is produced and consumed. But economic value is a psychological parameter, not a physical one. Dollars are produced by a melange of human perceptions, desires, and technology. What Leach cites as 'productivity' is a manifestation of the ability of human imaginatiion and will to transform inputs of various sorts into objects of desire.

Some objects of desire -- or more dryly, economic utilities -- certainly are rooted in physical necessities: food, water, heat, shelter, and such. But even with population growth, those entities represent an ever diminishing, minor share of overall economic output.

Rather, economic progress has been marked by a continuing shift from physical production (mining, agriculture, manufacturing) to a majority of "value-added" from information, knowledge, and similar "intangibles." In accordance with Moore's Law and related propositions, the efficiency with which human ingenuity has been able to convert energy and material resources into informational products has been doubling every year or so for decades, and shows no sign of slowing.

This epochal shift from the material sectors to the epistemic sectors of the economy is the central focus of George Gilder's recent book, Knowledge and Power. It was observed years earlier in, among others, Peter Drucker's The Post-Capitalist Society and my book, The Learning Enterprise.

We see evidence of this shift in the market valuation of the biggest companies. The value of about 3/4 of these companies, and their businesses, has little connection to physical resources. The market valuation itself is a product of investor psychology rather than physical parameters.

Large Cap Company                       Ticker              Market Cap
                                                                                ($in billions)
Apple Inc                                           AAPL                    439.39
Exxon Mobil Corp.                             XOM                     403.32
Google Inc                                      GOOG                     257.40
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.                 BRK.A                     243.60
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.                        WMT                      238.85
General Electric Co                               GE                     236.78
Microsoft Corporation                        MSFT                     233.53
Chevron Corporation                           CVX                      228.01
International Business Machines Corp. IBM                     226.03
Johnson & Johnson                               JNJ                     210.06
Procter & Gamble Co.                            PG                      207.55
AT&T Inc                                                     T                    202.21
Pfizer Inc                                                PFE                     198.72
Wells Fargo & Co.                                 WFC                     186.93
JPMorgan Chase & Co.                         JPM                      186.80
Coca-Cola Co (The)                                 KO                     168.46
Oracle Corp.                                         ORCL                     166.22
Philip Morris International Inc                   PM                      150.58
Bank of America Corp.                           BAC                       131.98
Citigroup Inc                                                 C                      130.06

February 7, 2014    View Comment    

On Time to Make Abrupt Climate Change and Earth Observation a Policy Priority

To some extent, a group of scientists calling for more money for science is unsurprising. But there does seem to be a significant gap in earth observation resources broadly compared to the immense economic, strategic, environmental, etc. stakes involved. Early warning of potential abrupt climate change is just one of multiple good reasons for such investments.

Meanwhile, the NRC's continual study of the subject of abrupt climate change underscores that such phenomena are natural, recurring, and not necessarily related to any 'anthropogenic' influence.

Unfortunately, stock phrases like "With increases in extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy" confounds the argument. As a tonic for such distortions, consult the work of Roger Pielke Jr. For instance, in Congressional testimony:

"PIELKE RESPONSE: Debate over the influence of human-caused climate change on extreme events often conflates expectations for the future with observations of the past. The scientific literature, as assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, does include projections for some types of extreme events to become more frequent and/or more intense. At the same time, as I summarized in my testimony, there is very limited evidence to support claims that such increases in frequency and/or intensity have been observed in most types of extremes – notably, the incidence and impacts of tropical cyclones (hurricanes), floods, drought, tornadoes and winter storms. Given a set of projections for changes in frequency/intensity of particular extreme events, it is a mathematical exercise to calculate when such changes might be detected in the observational record. As I detailed in my testimony, such detection may lie in the distant future. Consequently, that no such signal is detected today is consistent with long-term projections. That is, we should not expect to see changes in most types of extreme at the present time and this is indeed what the data shows."

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2014/01/questions-from-congress-part-1.html

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2014/01/questions-from-congress-part-2.html

January 28, 2014    View Comment