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On The Missing Oil Crisis of 2014

Marc, the only reason I said your comment needed qualification is you were implying that buying a car is a mathematical calculation with no subjective component.

No purchasing decision is made on strictly "economic" grounds, and suggesting I bought my car to "make a statement" is equally fallacious. The implication is that self-image played a part, when in fact electric cars, except in very few locations of the U.S., create fewer emissions than comparable internal combustion ones and leave the planet in a better condition for future generations. If there's a statement or ego-based consideration at work here you'll have to point it out to me, because in my opinion it's one of the most selfless motivations for purchasing any car.

Regarding maintenance, of course I never claimed that the items you mention won't wear out. They do represent a tiny fraction of the maintenance internal combustion drivers perform including replacing oil filters, oil changes, replacing air  filters, fuel injectors, belts, fuel filters, mufflers, alternators, generators, tuneups, maintaining coolant level, etc. In the three years I've owned my Nissan LEAF the only maintenance I've performed is pumping up the tires. That's a refreshing change.

The data you're referring to seems to be related to a 2012 Polk study, which has had detractors as well as supporters:

"Study is flawed in that it only examines the new purchases after 4 years. I submit that hybrid owners keep their cars for a longer period than 4 years. These hybrid owners often have the valuable HOV stickers which go with the particular car and are no longer issued for cars like the prius. This can cut large amounts of time from a commute."

http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120409/OEM05/120409868/1186/most-hybrid-buyers-dont-buy-another-one-polk-study-says

August 23, 2014    View Comment    

On Developing New Light and Energy Technologies

As it stands, within one hour, the Earth receives enough sunlight to supply one year’s worth of energy. The problem is that only a portion of the sunlight is used with current solar technology.

This was undoubtedly not an observation of Ms. Gradečak's, but one of a reporter less familiar with optics.

While it may be true that enough solar energy reaches the earth in one hour to supply our electricity needs for a full year, the notion that "the problem" is a technological one ignores the fact that even collecting solar energy at perfect efficiency that achievement would require thousands of square miles of collecting and distribution apparatus. It's  technologically possible now to generate and store enough energy from the sun to provide all of our electricity. It would, however, require a commitment of funds and resources, and a cooperative effort unprecedented in human history. The idea that support for relatively expensive solar energy would be allowed to trump investments in other services and infrastructure in most areas of the world is unsupportable.

There's no doubt that Ms. Gradečak's work can be used to increase the capacity factor of solar cells. Whether that advance will lead to solar being a significant source of the world's electricity - ever - is another matter altogether.

August 22, 2014    View Comment    

On Are Reverse Auctions the Key to Reforming Solar Energy Subsidies?

Brian, as a factor of the energy it actually generates solar gets ten times as much federal money as nuclear:

http://mercatus.org/publication/renewable-energy-subsidies-and-electricity-generation

Yes, that's "special help" - help which is not warranted, and help which has the unintended effect of furthering our reliance on fossil fuels and exacerbating climate change.

I realize solar has a quasi-holistic appeal for some; it's a criteria which is invalid for decisions of significant influence on the future health of our planet.

August 22, 2014    View Comment    

On More Non-Nuclear Prescriptions from Shell

Rod, since Shell doesn't offer actinide-based energy solutions it's not surprising they aren't an advocate, and they don't acknowledge shortcomings of natural gas. We can't expect the most accurate of scientific evaluations in what is essentially a sales presentation.

Of course, any fuel source's value to the public is best evaluated using an impartial comparison to its alternatives. If one takes a hard view of carbon emissions, even replacing coal with gas will likely create a reliance which extends long after gas could economically be replaced with cleaner alternatives. And it's very possible for gas to make the current situation worse: it recently replaced 12% of my state's carbon-free nuclear electricity generation, leading to an 8-megaton increase in annual carbon emissions. That's equivalent to 1.7 million extra cars on the road, a development to which you can count on Shell give short shrift.

In general, as a nuclear advocate, you probably shouldn't expect to find yourself on the short list to any pro-fossil events.

August 22, 2014    View Comment    

On The Missing Oil Crisis of 2014

Marc, your comment that "EVs are clearly not economic" needs some qualification.

Purchases are made based on a perception of value made by the buyer at the time of sale. For me, and at least 100,000 other EV owners in the U.S., value includes significantly reduced emissions, virtually zero maintenance, fuel costs which are roughly 1/3 those of liquid fuel, hair-raising acceleration, and avoided trips to service stations. These advantages would have made the car economic for me even if I was not the beneficiary of $7,500 in Federal tax credits. I realize not everyone has the same value system or living arrangement I do, but at this point I plan on never buying another internal combustion vehicle again.

I realize my priorities are not representative of the majority of American car buyers, but the picture is changing - with prices dropping and more people becoming aware of the advantages of owning an EV. In any case, the idea that purchasing an EV or hybrid is simply a matter of "making a statement" is not supported by sales of either format, both of which have made consistent gains.

Regarding

"...most hybrid owners, having owned one and made their statement, do not replace a hybrid with a hybrid when they trade it in..."

I'm not aware of this research. Can you provide a link or reference to it? 

August 22, 2014    View Comment    

On Are Reverse Auctions the Key to Reforming Solar Energy Subsidies?

Jesse, reverse auctions offer little assurance to ratepayers of the future they'll have invested wisely in a viable product, and saved money doing so:

1)  Market prices could move significantly lower after deals have been struck so far in advance

2) Technology will likely improve significantly in the interim, leaving investors with a tab for antiquated science and equipment

3) Alternative technologies may make solar irrelevant or grossly cost-inefficient by comparison.

That solar is seeking to lay claim to a special investment environment not afforded other technologies does not bode well for its prospects on the world's energy stage, and policymakers should be examining whether the true goal is to to advance the cause of clean energy or enrich those with significant existing holdings in solar technology.

 

August 21, 2014    View Comment    

On Utility 2.0: NY Utility Regulators Should Consider Change to "Formula for Success"

Rory, while the notion that electrical utilities have only been pursuing the two fundamental goals of finding more customers and making more money for the last century may serve as convenient fodder for stoking EDF's contributor base, it's hardly representative of the actual history of the industry.

The utility industry has been rife with change from the start, and it's still changing, Many of the business plans introduced in the American industry have become models for the world, and that's because they've been tremendously successful at not only making money for utilities but delivering energy reliably and cleanly to their customers.

The new "anti-utility" focus of distributed energy has the dirty fingerprints of subsidized renewables all over it, and amounts to a power grab by an industry with fading support seeking a new government-sponsored lifeline. Meanwhile, attempts to make pro-environmental points often make no sense at all. For example:

Options once considered fringe, like...driving electric cars...are now becoming so mainstream that utilities everywhere are seeing their bottom lines being crunched...

How could utilities selling more of their product be in any way considered a negative for their bottom line? Equally fallacious is the idea that a "heavier reliance on local, distributed energy resources" would be an ultimately beneficial change. It fights several basic principles of engineering, including standardization of equipment, accurate recordkeeping, and dependable maintenance procedure. It makes safety repairs and improvements much more costly, and all but eliminates economies of scale.

In short, the ultimate goal of this movement toward de-regulation is privatization, lack of accountability, and price-gouging (so far in every market where utilities have been deregulated electricity prices have gone up). So let's toss aside the notion that this is some populist scheme for the benefit of society, and instead describe it as what it is: an industry which will make some famously rich at the expense of service, with only illusory gains for the environment.

August 21, 2014    View Comment    

On Reality Check: Germany Does Not Get Half of its Energy from Solar Panels

Robert, thanks for presenting a factual and honest evaluation of solar's viability as a contributor to Germany electricity.

Your discussion makes it abundantly clear that solar will never have a dominant role as such. Also, it shows that Germany's irrational and politically-motivated energy policy is needlessly and arrogantly contributing to the atmospheric greenhouse effect, completely at odds with what its supporters claim.

We no longer have a luxury of time to waste on the consideration of unscientific, fear-based opinions which are undermining the goal of protecting critical planetary balances.

August 20, 2014    View Comment    

On Making Sense of the US Oil Story

Gail, what evidence do you have that the current flatline in oil consumption has anything to do with the economy? Year-to-year, the GDP has been advancing steadily for the last five years:

The United States GDP advanced 4 percent in the second quarter of 2014, rebounding from a revised 2.1 percent contraction in the previous period. Upturns in private inventory investment and exports and an acceleration in personal consumption and investment contributed to better than expected results.

The increase in real GDP in the second quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures, private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment. Imports increased.
http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth
August 15, 2014    View Comment    

On The Missing Oil Crisis of 2014

Marc, the fossil-fuel / internal combustion sector economy will certainly suffer as we convert to electric transportation. So will the respiratory-illness-treatment and oil-spill-remediation sectors, but that's probably a good thing - there are better things on which to spend our money. Fortunately, national economies evolve according to the laws of supply and demand. There are new industries to replace these 19th-century fossil fuel stalwarts, which persist more due to lobbying efforts than any vision for the future.

Hanging on just as tenaciously are anachronistic opinions like

Experience to date indicates that electric vehicles are an experiment and are not proving economic.

a view which was questionable even ten years ago, and a lot has changed since then. On my page right now I can see two Mercedes-Benz advertisements for their new B-Class electric sedan. Do you really believe MB is investing in this campaign on an experimental basis, or they believe they can actually make money on electric cars?

Whether tax breaks are preposterously generous or not is a matter of opinion, but what's not arguable is the fact they've lowered the price of electric vehicles by a factor of four and jumpstarted many of the technologies which helped Nissan's and Tesla's EVs become profitable.

August 15, 2014    View Comment    

On Could a Minimum Bill Bring an End to the Net Metering War?

Robert, how are you calculating utilities' fixed costs?

August 15, 2014    View Comment    

On How Much Longer Until Solar Eliminates the Utilities?

Bruce, you bring up a good point. I was assuming Panos was including solar in his consumption, but it's unclear. If not, that would explain the tight inverse correlation of the two graphs, and comparing his solar generation to the sum of the two lines would give us a much better idea of how solar was meeting his demand.

A significant environmental benefit of utility power is the ability to clean up the generation for thousands or millions of customers by making changes at one central facility. With electric vehicles, we can clean up transportation emissions of millions of drivers without any tailpipe testing at all. My concern with utility customers going off-grid is that if efficiency doesn't meet their expectations many will turn to diesel backup generation, creating a less-tractable distributed pollution problem.

August 14, 2014    View Comment