Comments by Bob Meinetz Subscribe

On Why 7 Years Of Low Natural Gas Prices Haven't Brought Down Electricity Prices

Benjamin, the reason electricity prices are multiples of what they were one decade ago has nothing to do with microgrids, inefficiencies, or distributed generation.

It is entirely the result of the 2005 repeal of FDR's Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA). PUHCA's repeal, with one stroke of George W. Bush's fossil-fuel-powered pen, legalized:

  • Campaign contributions from utilities to political candidates. In California, in the last five years alone, utilities have found it in their hearts to donate $110 million to their most powerful friends in Sacramento. Utility contributions have surpassed those of healthcare to make it the most powerful special interest bloc in the state. Before 2005, campaign contributions by utilities were prohibited.
  • Lobbying. Before 2005, utilities were prohibited from not only lobbying, but even testifying on their own behalf before filing with the SEC.
  • Holding companies. If you were a utility, and could force the public to buy your own natural gas at a markup, would you: a) leave efficient nuclear plants providing carbon-free generation online, or b) shut them down, and burn as much natural gas as possible?
  • Un-reviewed business relationships between utilities and their suppliers. Before 2005, all business relationships were reviewed on an annual basis by the Securities and Exchange Commission for conflicts "not in the public interest".

It was an exemption from PUHCA which made the Enron fiasco not only possible, but legal. Its repeal is the energy equivalent of the end of Glass-Steagall, which enabled the 2007 derivatives meltdown and ensuing recession. Until hippy-dippy renewables advocates realize they've become marketing tools of Big Energy, electricity prices will continue to skyrocket, exactly as they did in the 1920s under utility monopolists like Samuel Insull.

There's nothing wrong with the regulated utility model, the problem is it doesn't exist anymore. Deregulation - The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

February 13, 2016    View Comment    

On Taking the Heat out of Global Warming

Jim, a tabula rasa? This was a fascinating thread. What happened?

February 2, 2016    View Comment    

On The California Gas Disaster: What Comes Next and Where Else Could it Happen?

Mark, do you have a link to support your contention that America is importing an additional $59 billion in Chinese t-shirts yearly since 2007? That's how much our trade deficit has grown, and I have to admit I'm skeptical - that's a hell of a lot of t-shirts.

Or maybe "April 2015 US CO2 emissions from electric power hit the lowest monthly output since 1988" for the same reason Chinese emissions have climbed by 5 GT/yr since 1988. In 2015, 2 GT of those Chinese emissions were attributable to manufacturing products for export, and 30% of those exports came straight to the U.S.  Ergo - 600 MT of emissions every year are now directly attributable to either 1) outsourcing American production to China, or 2) Chinese products which have replaced American ones.

How is that possible, if American industrial output is at an all-time high (never mind it's finally matched the same all-time high it set 10 years ago)?

What has changed is what is being manufactured. The U.S. makes jet engines, jet airplanes, advanced technology products. These are the things where there is high value added and thus those high wages can be paid.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/09/02/american-manufacturing-is-alive-and-well-theres-no-need-to-try-and-save-it

"High value-added" is synonymous with "low intrinsic value" - instead of making patio chairs, lighting fixtures, frying pans, filing cabinets, etc. we're paying Chinese companies to do the dirty assembly work then (if necessary) putting on the finishing touches here. Which uses more energy, requires more energy-intensive raw materials production (like steel), and thus creates the vast bulk of emissions per unit value?

Seems that being a nation of overseers has a limited future; that the Chinese one day will grasp the idea that by being their own overseers they can bring all the bacon home. They're halfway there.

Boeing announces plans for a 737 "completion center" in China
http://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeing-agrees-to-open-737-center-in-china-inks-300-new-jet-orders/

America's Next New Buick Will be Made in China
http://jalopnik.com/americas-next-new-buick-will-be-made-in-china-1746273854

T-shirts? They haven't been a hot Chinese export since Chairman Mao (more likely, they'll next be a hot American one).

January 25, 2016    View Comment    

On The California Gas Disaster: What Comes Next and Where Else Could it Happen?

Mark, Jerry Brown wants to give credit for a 10% reduction in CA emissions to renewables; you want to hand it to natural gas.

Neither deserves it. Here's what does: 1) the biggest recession in 80 years, which hit just "when gas fracking took off", and 2) U.S. production moving to China has not only increased our trade deficit 30% since 2008, it's conveniently allowed us to scrub 15% of our emissions from the books by outsourcing them.

Maybe that's where Brown got the idea for California's electricity.

CO2 emissions are being 'outsourced' by rich countries to rising economies

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/19/co2-emissions-outsour...

January 24, 2016    View Comment    

On The California Gas Disaster: What Comes Next and Where Else Could it Happen?

Mark, in terms of addressing climate change, natural gas improvements have been exceedingly trivial. Methane and improved liquid fuel efficiency have been able to hold U.S. emissions flat - not remotely good enough. Of course, they're trying very hard to make the public believe it's good enough, because in a few decades it will be too late to do anything about it anyway. Then we all go to hell together.

Or do you believe natural gas mega-extractors will gladly step aside, after hundreds of gigawatts of new gas generation has been constructed, to permit "nuclear or other clean power" to come to the fore? Someone at Exxon-Mobil didn't get that memo:

Over the coming decades, natural gas is expected to play an increasingly important role in fueling the world’s economic growth. ExxonMobil is active across the natural gas value chain in most major markets. Our global presence...positions ExxonMobil strongly to help meet the world’s growing natural gas and power demands.


January 24, 2016    View Comment    

On With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

Willem, we get our share of 90F+ days here so this summer I will be on the lookout for that.

And I too expect the price of electricity to increase, now that the essentials of Enron's business model have been legalized.

Sometime I would like to get your thoughts on the Vermont Yankee/Gaz Metro/Pete Shumlin/Mary Powell/Green Mountain Power palace intrigue up there.

January 22, 2016    View Comment    

On With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

Willem, not sure where you're coming up with 20¢/kWh for electricity - the U.S. average is 12¢, and with any kind of demand response, overnight electricity will be less than that.

I know there's capacity degradation, that's built into the range I'm getting in real-world circumstances - probably representative of an average over the life of the battery. Less lively throttle response during acceleration and uphill driving is unnoticeable in my experience. After four years the acceleration of my Leaf bests that of any production car under $50,000.

Regarding battery prices:

Entering 2016 GM said its cells cost $145 per kilowatt-hour, and by late 2021, they could be at the $100 mark.

and Nissan is more than happy to dispose of my old battery for free (they want the lithium back). In fact, they won't sell me a new one without it.

Your ignored costs are useless for comparison purposes, because they're ones an internal combustion car would also be subject to: taxes, license, registration, washing, waxing, and vacuuming. But let's not forget the other ignored costs: tuneups, oil changes, oil filters, spark plugs, belts, mufflers, radiators, air filters, alternators, starters, mileage & emissions degradation...

I get that EVs aren't the ideal car for northern New England. For the other ~42 more-southerly states, they're extremely useful and economical for the driving most of us do everyday.

January 22, 2016    View Comment    

On With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

Willem I agree, and you underscore the critical importance of an engineering perspective in energy.

Unappreciated in renewables advocacy is the fact that complexity in systems design is a virtue only as a last resort for solving an unavoidable problem. It nearly always results in an exponential increase in waste, expense, and maintenance headaches.

January 21, 2016    View Comment    

On With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

Willem, it seems you're looking pretty hard for EV costs that just aren't there. A Tesla Model S sedan is not a vehicle, it's a luxury vehicle. Financing/amortizing any luxury vehicle will involve similar costs. 

My Nissan Leaf provides a more typical case. O&M costs for my charger, after five years, have been non-existent. O&M costs for two Leafs (actually one and a half, first was totaled in an accident) have been non-existent, unless wiper fluid and putting a quarter in service station air compressors is relevant.

By working top-down to get a per-mile energy cost, you're making the job more difficult than it needs to be. The Leaf has a 24kWh battery pack. At most, 80% (19kWh) of that gets used on a daily basis, and in realistic terms that means 50 miles on the road - freeways eat up electricity fast. We get the lowest rate for electricity, 15¢/kWh, because the car is charged at night. $.15 x 19 / 50 = $.057/mile. Higher than your figure, probably because we seldom use public charging. 

Adding battery replacement to the per-mile cost is fair for comparison purposes. A new Leaf battery pack is $6,000 incl tax and installation; we'll probably get 60,000 miles out of our current one. That makes a total of $.16 mile in energy and maintenance costs. About 1/10 of your figure.

Drastically-fewer moving parts pretty much takes maintenance out of the picture, and that alone makes up for all other drawbacks combined for an inter-urban, day-to-day vehicle.

January 21, 2016    View Comment    

On With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

Hops, I didn't see that mentioned at the link you provided, do you have a link to it?

After reading the article about biofuels, I'm skeptical. I suspect a "well-to-wheels" analysis of collecting beef fat, for example, then converting it to something that can be burned in a diesel generator would result in more fossil carbon emissions than burning diesel alone.

January 21, 2016    View Comment    

On The California Gas Disaster: What Comes Next and Where Else Could it Happen?

Question for moderators -

Why was this thread pulled from the homepage scroll?

January 21, 2016    View Comment    

On With Battery Production Exploding, Lithium Is Becoming the ‘New Gasoline’

Josh, I don't believe in playing dirty. Just the truth.

With that in mind, can you explain to me how "the fossil fuels" act as a battery to store your clean energy? This I must hear.

January 21, 2016    View Comment