Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

December 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE ENERGY BILL....George Bush has signed the energy bill passed by Congress yesterday:

Soon, you won't find those old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent light bulbs in stores. You will be able to buy more energy-efficient appliances. And you will see labels on TVs and computers that tell you how much energy they consume.

....In addition to the 40% increase in fuel efficiency for new cars and light trucks by 2020, for a fleetwide average of 35 mpg, the bill requires a fivefold increase — to 36 billion gallons — in the amount of alternative home-grown fuels, such as ethanol, that must be added to the nation's gasoline supply by 2022.

....The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has projected that the bill will reduce energy use by 7% and carbon dioxide emissions by 9% in 2030. The Washington think tank also has estimated it will save consumers and businesses more than $400 billion between now and 2030, "accounting for both energy cost savings and the moderately higher price of energy-efficient products."

Speaking of Rorschach tests, this is is a pretty good one. What do you think of this bill? Is it a weak-kneed sellout by spineless Dems unwilling to take a stand for real energy reform? Or a pretty good effort from a party with a slim majority and a recalcitrant president, one that that makes a modest but real difference that a future Democratic president can build on?

I'll take Door #2, please. Yes, there's still too much corn ethanol in this bill, and losing the 15% mandate for renewable electricity generation was a blow. But seriously, compare this bill to the energy industry porkfest that a Republican congress passed in 2005. It's like night and day. That one was little more than a massive handout to every energy lobbyist who ever dined at Charlie Palmer's. Today's bill, by contrast, actually accomplishes something. The CAFE increase to 35 mpg, all by itself, is historic, and 60% of the fuel mandate is for advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol, rather than the corn variety. This is real legislation that addresses a real problem, not a handout for campaign donors masquerading as "reform."

With this bill signed, the fight for an even better bill starts tomorrow. But without a Democratic congress we'd still be fighting to get even this much — and we wouldn't be any closer than we were five years ago. So, warts and all, good job, Harry and Nancy.

But if you want an alternate view, check out Ken Ward here. "Weak-kneed sellout" is the least of his criticisms.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Does the bill ban incandescents? Because banning a technology that is inexpensive and uses non-toxic materials, in favor of fluorescents, may not be a wise choice. Fluorescents actually require far more resources in their manufacture, and they are so toxic you can't just throw them in the trash, you have to take them to a special disposal center (not that anyone does). Moreover, solid state lighting is making great progress, and incandescents are becoming more energy efficient. Finally, despite claims to the contrary, fluorescents are not as flexible (hard to find ones that dim) nor as pleasant as incandescents.

Posted by: George Antrobus on December 19, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Time to start buying up those 100 watt bulbs. Wonder how all that nice mercury pollution from the "green" bulbs will affect our land fill? I'm going to have to read this bill to see what I should buy before the government decides to screw us yet again.

Posted by: cargosquid on December 19, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

It's always nice to see bi-partisan agreement to spend taxpayers' money in poorly thought out ways. I'm not sure if they did any good for energy or the environment, but Wall Street won't complain.

Posted by: freelunch on December 19, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Welcome to every day with President Hillary Clinton. This bill is exactly the type of the bill that the DLC-centrist types love to pass. A lot of fluff with no real progress. I guarantee you that by 2030 we will look at the 35mpg standard and just laugh at the naievete of the whole thing. It's almost 2008, people. Look at oil prices in 2000 and now, and tell me that 2030 is not going to be much, much worse. We're talking 22 years here.

Posted by: OhNoNotAgain on December 19, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

The only energy bill that makes sense is one that provides billions of dollars of energy assistance to low-income (or folks who are struggling)
renters and homeowners.

It's easy to pat ourselves on the back for "increasing mileage standards, or banning the bulb." That's not enough.

How many posters on this thread keep their house at 50F?

Sound ridiculous?

Well, maybe it is, but I have limited income and can't afford
the high cost of propane these days. Since I'm renting, I can't just shove a woodstove into the system.

I do turn a small space heater on in my bedroom when needed (cost of electricity for a couple of hours a day is cheaper than trying to heat the house above 50)

I'm not looking for sympathy. But I do wear sweaters!!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on December 19, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

cue the haters. "Al Gore once took a plane somewhere!1!!1! envirohypocrites!

Be the change you want to see.

Posted by: anonymous on December 19, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Having to nix repealing the massive tax handouts to the energy industry was the biggest disappointment in my view, but I think Kevin is basically right. With the slimmest of majorities in the Senate and Bush in the White House, it was better than nothing at this time. As they say, let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Posted by: jonas on December 19, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

It's both the best bill we can expect and a sell-out.

We need a renewable energy manhattan project to have any hope of stemming global warming.

Posted by: Disputo on December 19, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

My fear is that this is all we are going to get. If you view it as a first step, it's acceptable, but what are the odds that even a Democtratic president will go back to this issue in the near future?

Posted by: RollaMO on December 19, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Re: incandescants vs. fluorescents.

My guess is that LEDs are what we'll use. They're getting better (cheaper, brighter, more efficient, better light quality) fast. No mercury, 10-year lifetime, no penalty for on/off, instant-on.

I bought some, I wrote about it, mostly for my friends/family, look if you're curious:

http://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/led-under-cabinet-lights/

Posted by: dr2chase on December 19, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

what are the odds that even a Democtratic president will go back to this issue in the near future?

If it's someone like Dodd or Edwards, probably pretty good. Obama maybe. Clinton? Unlikely.

Posted by: jonas on December 19, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Political will alone is not enough. You need clarity from the messengers and consensus among the various power vectors. For all our righteousness on global warming, we're not even close to commanding the public's sympathy. I can't tell you how many LIBERALS I know who pooh-pooh the seriousness of GW.

What we need is a catastrophe that breaks the paralysis stemming from a largely disinformed public. This catastrophe will have to be bad enough to focus our attention and break the stranglehold of libertarians over our collective thought process. It will have to be not so catastrophic that it makes reform pointless.

If that sounds like a needle-threading requirement, you're right.

Posted by: walt on December 19, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Are incandescents so terrible when the furnace is running? Energy lost to heat in that cicumstance is not really energy lost.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on December 19, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Considering that previous energy policy was to allow Enron to manufacture rolling blackouts in California, this is a step in the right direction. I'm holding off on my criticism of Democrats until I see what they do when the have the White House and stronger majorities in Congress.

Posted by: tomeck on December 19, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

What we need is a catastrophe that breaks the paralysis stemming from a largely disinformed public.

There was a recent prediction of an ice(pack)-free Arctic Ocean in summer of 2013. That's just six years out, and ought to get someone's attention if it happens. So, sit tight, and start thinking about what we can do that will be feasible and effective (biking? wood stoves? LED lighting? wool sweaters? cogeneration?). Last thing we need is a bunch of panicky people doing stupid shit to "save the planet" when the wake-up event finally occurs.

Posted by: dr2chase on December 19, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

It's both the best bill we can expect and a sell-out.

If you want to call it a sell out by the whole government, fine, but how much can you expect from a 51-49 majority when one of those 51 is Lieberman? The Democrats don't have 60-66 votes to pass the bill we'd like them to pass. I don't see it as a sellout, it's just the best we can get for now.

Posted by: tomeck on December 19, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

As heat sources, incandescents are not nearly as efficient as modern heating systems. Plus, are you really going to take out your incandescents when you turn your furnace off, and put them back in when you turn it on? I didn't think so.

I have an apartment with big windows and high ceilings (hard to light). My electricity bills went down by 50% when I switched to CFLs throughout the apartment. They paid for themselves within two months. Given how long they last, I'll take a little bit of mercury for that kind of savings and reduced carbon emissions...

Posted by: dal20402 on December 19, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

"Are incandescents so terrible when the furnace is running? Energy lost to heat in that cicumstance is not really energy lost."

No, but even in places like Vermont the furnace only runs 6-7 months a year, so for the other 5-6 months incandescents are a bad choice.

Posted by: F. Frederson on December 19, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Put me in the "since this does represent actual progress, it's better than nothing" camp - and 'nothing' is what we would have gotten if we'd tried this last year.

Maybe the Dems can put the good stuff that was stripped from this one into another bill, and if it gets the same 59 Senate votes, force the GOP to actually filibuster it.

But more to the point, 'nothing' is what the Dems have usually gotten this year. And that's another justification for forcing GOP filibusters: maybe we'd get something more often than we do.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on December 19, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Are incandescents so terrible when the furnace is running?

Yes, because some large fraction of the heat energy (70%?) in the original fuel is lost outside your house. There's inherent thermodynamic lossage running generators from steam turbines, and there's additional losses in the distribution.

If you were doing your own cogeneration (e.g., http://www.whispergen.com/ ) then you DO get to keep most of the heat, but the co-generator is not as efficient as commercial electrical generators.

Posted by: dr2chase on December 19, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- the bill's a sellout. The new mileage standards don't get stepped up on an incremental, year-by-year basis; increases aren't mandatory for a decade.

So, BEYOND the renewable energy sellout, the MPG part is itself a sellout.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 19, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

The ethanol problem you refer to is hardly an oh-by-the-way. It undermines all the goals of the legislation.

Since ethanol takes more energy to produce than it provides, the ethanol mandate will waste more energy than all the other savings in the bill combined.

Since the current corn crop will only produce 30 billion gallons of ethanol, the environmental devastation from radical increases in cropland combined with the harm to the poor from food prices already driven higher by ethanol will more than offset any benefit of the plan.

You crow that past energy bills were porkfests for corporations, which I can't deny. But the ethanol mandate is the largest porkfest of any energy bill of all time. By saying that, "except for the ethanol, it is a good bill" is essentially saying "except for all the pork, it has not pork in it."

Further, the ethanol mandate will just retard efforts to meet the mpg goals, since on a straight volumetric basis ethanol provides less energy than gasoline. That means that faced with new Cafe standards, auto makers are going to balk at building cars that can run more ethanol, meaning you will have 36 billion gallons of ethanol and not one buying it.

I know those like you on the left criticize libertarians like myself for not working for good government because we are too busy trying to eliminate it. But where is the good government here? How do you enforce a 36 billion gallon mandate? Who goes to jail if we don't have 36 billion gallons? Same issue with the 15% renewables requirement that was dropped, mainly because it was impossible to reach, since non-hydro renewables after years of subsidies are about .2% of electricity generation.

I don't personally accept the need to reduce CO2 or achieve the chimera of energy independence. But if I did, as I suppose you do, I would look for an energy plan with two things:
1. A carbon tax
2. Streamlined approval process for nuclear plants

That is the only way this is going to happen. Micro-management of the economy, such as choosing what kind of light bulbs we should be able to buy, is just nuts. Its the kind of thinking that has led to my not having a single toilet in my house that actually works worth a darn.

Posted by: coyote on December 19, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Cato Institute really, really doesn't like this bill:

The energy bill to be signed by the president today is arguably the worst piece of energy legislation ever enacted into law. It will substantially increase the price of automobiles, increase highway fatalities, increase fuel prices, worsen air pollution, and force consumers to buy products (like super-efficient light bulbs) that they manifestly -- and for very good reason -- do not want to buy. It will transfer huge amounts of wealth from the consumer to the farm lobby in the course of promoting a dubious product -- ethanol -- that will make energy supplies less reliable and greenhouse gas emission higher than necessary.

Posted by: ex-liberal on December 19, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08!: Are incandescents so terrible when the furnace is running? Energy lost to heat in that cicumstance is not really energy lost.

Good point. Figure 40% efficiency for fossil fuel electric power generation and 80% for a good fossil fuel based home heating system, and you're only wasting half as much energy as you think with an incandescent.

The flip side though is when you have air conditioning. Now you're expending at least another 50W just to provide the cooling for that 100W bulb, so that 100W bulb is causing you to use at least 150W.

Personally I've always liked the idea of living in a cave, with its year round moderate temperatures. My kids think it's a cool idea too, but I can't convince my wife that the bat guano won't be a problem.

Posted by: alex on December 19, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

It may be better than nothing, but it reminds me of the "transit" packages they keep trying to pass in Washington State which invariably put something like 95% of the money into new highways.

Posted by: jefff on December 19, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

"...into new highways."

Err.. make that highways. Most of it was for highways maintenance, still there was many times as much money for highway improvements and new lanes as there was for any kind of transit.

Posted by: jefff on December 19, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: Cato Institute really, really doesn't like this bill

News Flash! Libertopians don't believe in externalities, and only talk about the "tragedy of the commons" when it's an excuse to private everything and engage in rent-seeking behavior.

Posted by: alex on December 19, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

This bill stinks. The change in car mileage will be to force us all into econo-death boxes. It that's what you want to drive, well, good for you. I'm not putting my family into one.

Posted by: DBL on December 19, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "... The CAFE increase to 35 mpg, all by itself, is historic ..."

The CAFE increase to 35 MPG in 13 years is pathetic.

I drive a 17-year-old 1991 Ford Festiva (designed by Mazda, manufactured by Kia, imported and sold in the USA as a "Ford" by Ford) that gets 35 MPG in city driving and nearly 50 MPG on the highway.

That's a car that cost me $5000 used (2 years old), that is still running like a champ 15 years later with little more than routine maintenance, using the technology that was available 17 years ago.

The US car manufacturers have been able to build 50 MPG cars -- durable, reliable, low maintenance 50 MPG cars -- for at least two decades. They chose not to do so because profit margins are much, much higher on gargantuan gas-guzzling SUVs. So, for two decades the US car manufacturers spent many millions of dollars to use the most powerful brainwashing techniques ever invented by Madison Avenue to hypnotize Americans into "wanting" what the car manufacturers wanted to sell them.

The law should mandate a minimum -- not fleet average, but minimum -- fuel economy for all new cars of at least 40 MPG, and flat out ban any gasoline-fueled vehicle that gets less than that, and phase that standard in over no more than five years.

But as long as the federal government is a wholly-owned subsidiary of America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. that will never happen, and the US car manufacturers will meanwhile find loopholes and lobby for exemptions and in every way seek to undermine the new CAFE standard.

Meanwhile, China is enacting fuel economy standards that will pretty much exclude US manufacturers from selling cars in China, because they won't be able to meet the Chinese fuel economy standards.

How come China is leading on the crucial issue of drastically improving automobile fuel economy -- one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector -- while the US is lagging behind the entire industrialized world?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 19, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Just to clarify, I don't have a problem with energy conservation. The proper (i.e., efficient) way to do it is to increase energy taxes and reduce income taxes by exactly that amount. The increase in energy prices will encourage people to save energy by buying cars that get better mileage or by weather proofing their houses or by buying fancy new lightbulbs or whatever. That approach wouldn't kill what remains of the US car industry and would allow those who value safety over mileage (people before profits, right?) to continue to buy big, safe cars rather than econo-death boxes.

Posted by: DBL on December 19, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

I still don't understand why we haven't mandated (at least at the state/local level) that all new buildings be constructed with solar panels covering the roof. The extra cost would be a drop in the bucket (comparable to the cost of granite countertops & hardwood floors). And even in places where sun exposure is below average, the panels would still generate substantial amounts of energy. The cumulative effect, particularly over a ten or twenty year period of construction activity, would be dramatic. Might even put some power companies out of business--oops, just answered my own question.

[same could probably be said about geo-thermal/heat pump systems]

Posted by: cramer on December 19, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

In better news, the California-based company Nanosolar has started shipping its flexible thin-film photovoltaic panels, which will be used in a solar power plant in Germany that will initially produce one megawatt of power.

Nanosolar says that its thin-film photovoltaic technology will be able to deliver solar electricity for less than one dollar per watt, less than the cost of fossil-fuel generated electricity. The thin-film panels are ideally suited not only for centralized utility-scale generation but for small-scale distributed applications, including residential rooftop installations.

Other companies such as Ovonics are working on similar technologies.

Ultra-cheap thin-film photovoltaics are a "disruptive technology" that will revolutionize the way electricity is generated, distributed and used -- not only in the industrialized world but very importantly in the developing world, where hundreds of millions of people desperately need access to electricity, and where the cost of building large centralized power plants and the grid to distribute their output is prohibitive (not to mention environmentally catastrophic if the central power plants are coal or uranium fired).

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 19, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

From the point of view no other bill could have been signed, that at least this bill will begin some improvements in energy consumption and it will make a tiny reduction in green house gases, I would say it is a weak, but good, beginning to the changes needed. I would not call it a pretty good effort because probably by 2020 and 2030 these changes will not make a difference. Nature and the markets will force many more painful changes before then.

Posted by: Brojo on December 19, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but even if we suddenly achieve the end targets of this bill tomorrow, your home will still be underwater in about 5 years Kevin.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 19, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

The change in car mileage will be to force us all into econo-death boxes.

That's pretty antisocial of you, given that the SUV that you apparently prefer, is much more deadly to other people, and probably isn't that safe for you.

In addition, the idea that a car, any car, is safer is not exactly true; odds are that you'll live longer by a year or two if you rode a bicycle instead, because of the health benefits (British Medical Association, Cycling towards Health & Safety, 1992, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-10-286151-4 -- cited by Mayer Hillman, in turn cited here: http://bicycleuniverse.info/transpo/almanac-safety.html)
Note that this "odds are" includes the risk of dying in an accident on a bicycle, and the odds could be improved even more with cyclist and driver education.

Posted by: dr2chase on December 19, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I find the support for ethanol production especially annoying because it pretends (successfully, I might add) to be environmentally friendly and a step towards energy independence when it is exactly the opposite. Growing corn to produce ethanol to fuel cars is a ridiculously wasteful thing to do. It doesn't help the environment, it doesn't make us energy-independent. What it does is dishonestly link environmentalism/energy indendence with continued massive subsidies for agribusiness.

Now, it certainly is possible to develop some form of biofuel that would help out our energy problem (switchgrass maybe), but corn-based ethanol isn't it.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on December 19, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

DBL: That approach wouldn't kill what remains of the US car industry

Neither will this. If the "American" car industry dies, it'll be their own fault. It's been 34 years since the first oil embargo, which is just enough time to have made a few tweaks to their products.

The American car industry also predicted doom and gloom when the first CAFE regs were introduced, and when emission regs were introduced. Didn't happen.

If "foreign" car companies can hack it, why not "American" car companies?

and would allow those who value safety over mileage (people before profits, right?) to continue to buy big, safe cars rather than econo-death boxes.

Honda is going to introduce a Diesel Accord that gets 63 MPG. At 3300 lbs. the Accord is a mid-size.

More importantly, big doesn't always equal safe. Do you drive an SUV for the safety? Surprise! They have higher fatality rates than cars. Yes, there is some tradeoff between size/weight and safety. But dumping tons of steel into oversize bodies and inefficient frame construction is hardly the most effective way to make the compromise. It gives people an illusion of safety - real safety takes serious engineering. Just as importantly, size vs. safety has become an arms race. Get rid of the 6000 lb. behemoths and the people in 3000 lb. cars will be safer.

Posted by: alex on December 19, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

DBL -- first off, SUVs are not statistically safer than smaller cars. That's an old canard that the American auto industry and its allies have peddled over the years and it's flat wrong. On the other hand, I think there's a lot to be said for Al Gore's proposal -- scrap the payroll tax, which most middle-class people pay and is an additional burden on employers and small businesses, in favor of a carbon tax. Then you don't have the extra regulatory burden of forcing automakers, oil refiners, or power generators of having to meet this or that benchmark in so many years. Consumers can choose and businesses can compete to offer the products that use fossil fuels most efficiently. If you still think the "safety" margin of a huge, gas-hog SUV is that big a deal, then you'll surely be willing to pay an extra few bucks to fill up its tank, right?

Posted by: jonas on December 19, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

alex wrote: "Get rid of the 6000 lb. behemoths and the people in 3000 lb. cars will be safer."

For people like DBL, the fact that their Stupid Ugly Vehicles are a danger to others is a feature, not a bug.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 19, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The bill was good because it's a stepping stone in the right direction during an administration that doesn't believe in stepping stones, rather just jumping across the lake and hoping you make it. When the Dems control the White House and have a bit more advantage in the Senate they can pass a more rigorous and meaningful bill.

Posted by: Fred F. on December 19, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Nanosolar says that its thin-film photovoltaic technology will be able to deliver solar electricity for less than one dollar per watt, less than the cost of fossil-fuel generated electricity.

SecAn-

Um, I buy the most expensive residential electricity in the US, and it costs me 20 cents for 1000 watts for one hour.

But, off to read your links for clarification

Posted by: Kolohe on December 19, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

"first off, SUVs are not statistically safer than smaller cars. "

Actually they are much more dangerous.
There is an oddity to the way the US calculates vehicle safety in that by 'safety' they almost always mean the chance that the people riding in the car will be hurt. With that sociopathic definition SUV's score pretty close to smaller cars, though usually a bit worse (and semi trucks probably score well). However a more realistic view of safety would also include the odds that your car kills someone else. In a crash involving an SUV the people in the other vehicle (whatever it is) are much more likely to be hurt.

SUV's also block sight lines so almost certainly cause accidents in which the SUV is not even directly involved. There are millions of now blind corners in the US because SUV's are parked next to them rather than cars.

SUV's have become so large that they are killing people inside their houses by crashing through their walls, and bashing aside highway barriers.

They are also responsible for numerous extra child deaths as parents back over their children on the way out of their driveways.

Posted by: jefff on December 19, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kolohe, SA is talking about generating capacity.

Posted by: Disputo on December 19, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

I would have to replace every lighting fixture in my house if I wanted to switch to compact fluorescents. The current CF bulbs are too big at the base to fit into all of my lamps and ceiling fixtures.

Feh.

Posted by: ctate on December 19, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

It was like Kevin says, a not very impressive first step, but probably the best we could get at this time.

Secular: It is great news that nanosolar has started commercial production. Their marketting literature promises $.99/watt later on. Hopefully they will be able to deliver on this promise. We aren't at the point yet where $1/watt panels can be counted on, but it does at least it looks promising.

More aggressive CAFE standards -like 35 for 2010 and 50 for 2020 would be more inline with the needs -and the coming peak-oil cost of fuel. But of cource politics being politics that sort of sensible policy is unthinkable.

Posted by: bigTom on December 19, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I wrote: "Nanosolar says that its thin-film photovoltaic technology will be able to deliver solar electricity for less than one dollar per watt, less than the cost of fossil-fuel generated electricity."

Kolohe replied: "I buy the most expensive residential electricity in the US, and it costs me 20 cents for 1000 watts for one hour."

What I was referring to was the installed cost of generating capacity.

For example, earlier this year I got a price quote from a local solar contractor for a 2 kilowatt peak power, grid-connected photovoltaic system, without batteries, using conventional Evergreen PV modules. The price quote was about $20,000 for the installed system. That's $10 per watt.

At the $1 per watt price that Nanosolar is projecting for their flexible thin-film modules, the 2 KW system I want would cost $2,000.

Now, at that price I probably wouldn't install a 2 KW system. I would cover my roof with thin-film PV and get a 5 KW or higher capacity system, and produce a surplus of electricity that I would sell back to the utility.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 19, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

"There was a recent prediction of an ice(pack)-free Arctic Ocean in summer of 2013." - Dr2Chase

This won't be viewed (or should I say 'sold')as a catastrophic event but rather as a stroke of good fortune, opening up oil reserves. Russia, Canada, the US, and Sweden are already up there charting the ocean floor and quarreling over sovereignity rights.

Posted by: nepeta on December 19, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

To DR2Chase: Bikes are great. I bought when I lived in Illinois and rode it all over. Then I moved to Fairfield County, Connecticut and rode it once or twice and stopped. The roads here are narrow, twisty, and hilly, and people drive like maniacs. It's just not safe, not for fun, and certainly not to get to and from work. Not to mention that half the year the roads are covered with snow and ice. Come to think of it, that's why I drive a 4-door Jeep Wrangler.

But bikes are fun, I'll concede that.

You know, if cost-effective solar cells and/or other advanced technology are ever developed, I'm pretty confident that people will buy them without any need for the State to coerce them into it. Why wouldn't they? However, I don't think solar will ever play a big role, at least in this part of the world. I suppose some day some giant corporation might build a solar project out the Nevada desert, covering a thousand square miles with solar cells, but solar power is so diffuse and weak (and subject to clouds and snow and the rotation of the Earth) I don't see it as having much impact beyond that. If you look far enough into the future, we may well have giant solar arrays in space, coverting sunlight into electricity which is beamed by microwave down to the Earth. But solar panels on roofs - even if they were 100% efficient, they wouldn't generate enough power, given cloud cover, nighttime, snow cover, etc. to make a difference.

Posted by: DBL on December 19, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

GW trivia from Harper's, Dec 2007:

Est. number of tons of CO2 released on New Year's Eve from all the champagne bottles uncorked by Americans: 8

Number of minutes it takes all 13,000 New York City cabs to release this much: 7

Posted by: nepeta on December 19, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Further, the ethanol mandate will just retard efforts to meet the mpg goals, since on a straight volumetric basis ethanol provides less energy than gasoline. - coyote

Despite ethanol's lower energy density it burns more efficiently and cleanly than gasoline and MPG actually improves on blends up to about 15% or so before it starts to fall off. I'm not certain, but I wouldn't be surprised that the EPA will adjust for the lower BTU content of alcohol when applying the tougher CAFE standards. If it does then it will lower the bar for the auto industry since ethanol burns more efficiently. If the EPA doesn't adjust for it and the bar is set higher for the industry, we can celebrate even lower GHG emissions as a result.

Now they need to work on getting rid of sugar subsidies and using alternate feed stocks instead of corn.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 19, 2007 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Look for turbochargers to possibly make a comeback. They were very useful in the 80's to help meet the first set of CAFE requirements. I suspect that cylinder deactivation will probably be the most widely used though. The hybrid Accord uses that with a V6 and it appears to work very well.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 19, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, I did misread Watt as watt-hour.


That said, the source of "less than one dollar a watt" is a statement by the companies CEO. Not necessarily wrong, but definitely biased and possibly overly optimistic, when he is talking about an order of magnitude imporvement in short order (10 down to one in unit cost)

Now the product sheets say the specs are propriety and covered by NDA's so it is impossible even to do a back of the envelope calculation to see where his company's product stands now and verify his projections.

But the product page does say "halven the balance of system costs." Which I take to mean that his tech lowers the cost of a PV system so that the entire system (solar cells, batteries, wiring, control systems, installation, etc) costs about half of the going rate (e.g $5) This is good news, but another 70-80% reduction to get at a break even point seems signficantly more difficult.(this breakeven is indeed approx 1.00-1.50 a watt based on info I have read on the solarbuzz.com site which I can't seem to find at this time)

Posted by: Kolohe on December 19, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

SA.
The contractor who quoted you $20K was covering some largish system costs other than just the PV panels. You can find PV panels today for $4-5/watt. But you have to mount the panels, do the wiring, use an inerter, and utility interconnect -so the poor schlock working on the power line can know that if his company turns off the power your solar system won't electrocute him. This rest of the system typically accounts for about half the cost, which seems to be in the ballpark for your quote.

So if nanosolar were to get the panel cost down to $1/watt, that would save 40% of the cost, not 90%. Of course it would make sense to add more collectors, as some of the other balance-of-system costs don't scale up linearly with capacity. Still the balance of system costs would seem to put a floor under the cost of PV generation which is still substantial. Unless you go to building integrated PV, where the panels double as roofing or windows PV is still going to be pretty pricy.

Posted by: bigTom on December 19, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Doc at the Radar Station: Look for turbochargers to possibly make a comeback.

Especially with Diesels - they make a great combo since you don't have to worry about knocking.

Posted by: alex on December 19, 2007 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

DBL wrote: "But solar panels on roofs - even if they were 100% efficient, they wouldn't generate enough power, given cloud cover, nighttime, snow cover, etc. to make a difference."

As with your belief that SUVs are safer than small cars, you are misinformed.

According to a 2005 study by the Energy Foundation, "Residential and commercial rooftop space in the US could accommodate up to 710,000 MW of solar electric power (if all rooftops were fully utilized, taking into account proper orientation of buildings, shading from trees, HVAC equipment, and other solar access factors). For comparison, total electricity-generating capacity in the US today is about 950,000 MW."

So according to this study, the potential generating capacity of distributed rooftop PV in the USA is equivalent to 75 percent of the USA's total electricity-generating capacity. If the capacity of distributed rooftop PV were fully exploited, it could essentially replace all the coal-fired power plants in the country.

The report also found that "the potential US market for grid-connected solar rooftop PV could reach 2,900 MW per year by 2010, assuming that the solar industry can achieve a 'breakthrough' price of $2.00-$2.50 per installed watt."

With the "breakthrough" technology represented by Nanosolar's thin-film PV panels, a revolution in the production, distribution and use of electricity is at hand.

And this portends a social and economic revolution as well, because unlike coal, gas and nuclear powered electricity generation, where only giant corporations can afford to own the power plants, ultra-low-cost distributed PV generation puts the ownership of energy production in the hands of small businesses, communities, and even families and individual home owners.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 19, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

And this portends a social and economic revolution as well, because unlike coal, gas and nuclear powered electricity generation, where only giant corporations can afford to own the power plants, ultra-low-cost distributed PV generation puts the ownership of energy production in the hands of small businesses, communities, and even families and individual home owners.

And the internal combustion engine led to an economic and social revolution as well, because unlike rail, where only giant corporations (or governments) can afford the to own the rolling stock and infrastructure, it put the ownership of transportation into the hands of small businesses, families and individuals.

Anology ain't perfect, granted (sunlight != roads, and because of this I mor or less agree with you on solar's comparative advantage in this area) but in the same way as ethanol just replaces big oil with big farm, I think it's wise to be cautious on deconsolidation effects.

Posted by: Kolohe on December 19, 2007 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Are incandescents so terrible when the furnace is running? Energy lost to heat in that cicumstance is not really energy lost."

It's still dumb, in that using electricity (or for that matter fuel oil) to drive a hear pump is vastly more efficient than running a furnace.
But, of course, this is what electricity policy in the US is all about -- 95% posture, and 5% informed science/engineering.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on December 19, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

The roads here are narrow, twisty, and hilly, and people drive like maniacs. It's just not safe, not for fun, and certainly not to get to and from work. Not to mention that half the year the roads are covered with snow and ice.

I must admit that I was mostly off my bike the first ten years I lived here (near Boston), but now I ride 50 miles/week, year round. In particular, I rode in the first storm last Thursday to retrieve my son's bike, went shopping on bike before the next storm (bikes are great when the parking lot is full), and then rode to work Monday, when the bike trail was an ice rink. For that, you need studded tires. With a little bit of gear, snow and ice are not an obstacle, and when things get really bad, the bikes can move when the cars cannot.

The bigger problem is the excess dark around this time of year, and as you note, the idiots in cars. One big reason to like smaller cars is that they leave more room on the road; this time of year, with the narrowed lanes, the bigger cars leave absolutely no room for bikes or pedestrians (who walk in the street because cleaning the sidewalks was somehow not a priority). That is, an idiot in a small car, is less dangerous than an idiot in a large car (whereas an idiot on a bicycle is almost entirely only dangerous to himself -- if you take personal responsibility seriously, you should consider a bike).

What lacks up here in New England is enforcement; growing up in the South, seeing how people drive up here, and hearing towns whine about a lack of money, we (me, wife) both immediately think "We can solve your problems with one Southern sheriff". We have a crosswalk, a stone's throw from an elementary school, and we cannot get a crossing guard because it is "too dangerous" for the crossing guard. Once again, priorities -- you'd think it was the job of the police to do something about that danger.

Part of the "solution" to GW is simply to remove some of the incentives that people have to not walk or not bike. Clear the sidewalks, make sure people stop for crosswalks, widen twisty roads and remove crap that obstructs sitelines. Incentives is not just all about banning and taxing; it helps a lot to make the alternatives more attractive.

Posted by: dr2chase on December 19, 2007 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

The only reason the Bush administration agreed to sign this weak bill was to provide cover for denying California's waiver to set their own emission standards for CO2. The only part of the bill that might have made some difference was to change the subsidies currently given to oil companies (who, I guess, are profitable enough) and use them to promote other greener and more efficient energy forms.

sigh....

Posted by: mgcktri on December 19, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

With a little bit of gear, snow and ice are not an obstacle, and when things get really bad, the bikes can move when the cars cannot.
dr2chase

Thanks for mentioning studded bike tires! I lived about 2 miles from university the last time I attended and I refused to buy their expensive parking permits which were fucking worthless anyhow. Bikes rule when it comes to parking! What a joke to have to get there 1/2-1 hr early just to drive through all the parking lots, idling, and looking for a space wasting gas the whole time. I live about 3 miles away from the current school I'll be attending and want to bike instead of drive if possible. Now wintertime biking seems doable. Kudos.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 19, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

A good step considering the political balance.

More is needed as we improve technology and as Dems gain better control.

Posted by: MarkH on December 19, 2007 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

The only reason the Bush administration agreed to sign this weak bill was to provide cover for denying California's waiver to set their own emission standards for CO2.

That does appear to be the case.

Posted by: Disputo on December 19, 2007 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

my reading suggests to me that the following will have happened by the end of 2008:

1. PV cell manufacture will have increased by a factor of 10 (in the world and in the U.S.);

2. Multiple companies will produce PV cells at less than $/watt of generating capacity (see Secular Animist above for 1 likely candidate);

3. Canadian petroleum will have supplanted Middle East petroleum in the U.S. market;

4. Ethanol production from cellulosic sources will be at the rate of 1 billion gallons per year;

5. Electricity from wind will be at least 5 times what it is now;

6. every auto manufacturer will sell a model in every vehicle class that has at least 40% better fuel economy than the average in that same class now;

7. Li-ion batteries will have 10 times the capacity of Li-ion batteries of the same weight now;

8. at least 1 coal-fired power plant will successfully sequester at least 805 of its CO2 emissions;

9. at least one coal-to-liquid synfuels plant will sequester 100% of its CO2 emissions (as the Great Plains plant in N. Dakota does now);

10. mass-produced catalysts will use solar power to produce H2 and CO in commercially significant quantities.

The whole energy world will be different.

With these things in mind, the new energy act will be seen to have been a step in the right direction, but a tiny step, almost negligible.

Favorite sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.energy-daily.com

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 20, 2007 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

oops,

80% for 805

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 20, 2007 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

11. by 2008, at least one state will get at least 1% of its fuel from a combination of municipal waste, feedlot waste, and factory farm offal.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 20, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Nepeta

I don't think Sweden has any claims on the Arctic, lacking an Arctic coastline.

Matthew R Marler

Most of what you write may happen, but not in 2008.

Wind at 5 times looks particularly suspect and in any case will still be a tiny part of overall production (but growing fast!). Wind is the only form of alternative energy (ex hydro) that is currently competitive with conventional energy (assuming a shadow price for carbon). So it is growing fast, and the new Energy Act does renew the subsidies for wind farms for 4 years, which is a better planning horizon than we have had.

Interestingly Warren Buffett is investing in 4GW of wind capacity in Texas.

The conventional utility industry is crying out for a clear steer from Congress and the White House on future carbon taxation, before they commit to a new generation of power plants.

8 I don't know where you get a prediction like that, ditto 9.

3 you are presumably talking Alberta tar sands, and they won't ramp that fast. The US biggest supplier is Venezuela I believe.

mgcktri

Good analysis. Insightful. Thank you.

Posted by: Valuethinker on December 20, 2007 at 4:16 AM | PERMALINK

value thinker:Most of what you write may happen, but not in 2008.

So true. I meant by the end of the next presidential term, 2012. This is what comes of typing late at night.

It is true that Venezuela is the chief foreign supplier of the U.S., but the politics of Middle Eastern oil is different from the politics of Venezuelan oil. Overall U.S. imports of oil declined in Q3 of 2007, and I am hopeful that the trend will continue.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 20, 2007 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Sun's Energy at the earth's surface: 1000 Watts /square meter.

Solar Thermal efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity is 30% to 37 %. Lower figure yields 300 Watts per square meter.

1 Sq kilometer = 1000 meters x 1000 meters = 1 million square meters.

Solar electricity = 300 Megawatts per square kilometer.

Assume an average of 5 Hrs of Sun per day.

This is 1500 Megawatt-Hrs per Sq Kilometer per day.

Or 547,500 Megawatt-Hrs per Sq kilometer per year.

Divide by 1000 to get gigawatt-hours. This is 547.5 Gigawatt-Hours per sq kilometer per year.

Total annual US use of electricity is 3,953,407 gigawatt-hours as of December 31, 2004. Use increases approximately 2% per year.

This requires nearly 7300 Sq kilometers. Since one collector shades another, known as the "shading effect", assume 50% of the area can be covered without having one collector shadow another.

This requires around 14600 square kilometers.

This is a square around 121 kilometers ( or 75.5 miles) upon a side.

Now, let's double the generating capacity to charge up the batteries on all-electric cars.

This is 29,200 sq kilometers or 171 kilometers per side or 107 miles per side.

Cloudy days and seasonal changes will require a larger area. There are a number of areas that have more than 300 days of sun each year.

So let us say we need the equivalent of a square 150 miles on a side. This is less than 0.5% of the total continental US land area. Of course, the solar fields would be widely distributed.

Storage of excess thermal energy in molten salts or high temperature fluid tanks will span the hours of no sunlight.

Electrical transmission losses over several hundred miles are less than 5%.

Thus, we can have a totally solar to electric society with efficient individual mobility, near zero pollution or greenhouse gases that is sustainable using existing technology.

The technology is readily exported to all without fear of misuse, raises the standard of living for everyone, thereby reducing conflicts.

For a working example, see Solar One Nevada on Youtube.

Posted by: deejaayss on December 20, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Dr2Chase,

I commute 18 miles each way, dropping my son off at school on the way. That's not a long commute by standards around here. Obviously, biking would not be an option even if the roads were flat, wide, dry and safe, and even if I didn't have to work into the night frequently. Gee, Doc at the Radar Station, having a job and responsibilities is different than being a student!

If you want people to drive smaller, more efficient cars, then tax energy. If you reduce marginal income tax rates by an amount sufficient to offset any energy tax revenues, you could encourage more efficient energy use while not totally destroying the economy.

The regulatory fixes favored by Congress and the Administration, however, will both damage the economy and do less to encourage energy efficiency than an energy tax. Their only advantage is to give the politicians cover - they can blame the car companies for the higher costs mandated by the law, rather than taking the blame themselves for higher taxes on energy.

Posted by: DBL on December 20, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

DBL,

I disagree about the CAFE standards being "damaging" to the economy. I believe they are the exact opposite. Detroit always has went for short term profits by building the heaviest vehicles because the margin was best and they've been burned in the past for that short-term thinking. If anything this gives them better direction and prods them to do more high-tech R&D which should help their long-term profits. I think that would be preferable to the domestic auto industry getting hammered by an oil shock or more likely a Peak Oil scenario with sustained high prices. If they are already building more efficient vehicles by mandate they aren't going to take such a big hit later. I don't favor increased taxes to curb consumption-I think it is recessionary and more importantly unnecessary in the long run.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 20, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't think Sweden has any claims on the Arctic, lacking an Arctic coastline." - Valuethinker

You're absolutely right. It's Denmark, via Greenland.

Posted by: nepeta on December 20, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't call it "obvious" that an 18 mile commute is incompatible with biking, but it does make it less attractive. However, you should know that transporting a kid is entirely an option; my bike is not a toy, and can carry (in addition to me) up to about 150 lbs of combined passenger/stuff cargo. There are people who do this sort of thing with an electronic assist, which may actually be more eco-friendly than doing it all by sweat power.

The problem is that the only option being pitched hard is driving cars -- the amount of money spent marketing and advertising automobiles dwarfs the efforts of a bunch of bike-fanatic bloggers. Biking with cargo is an option. Biking with passenger(s) is an option. Biking with battery assist is an option. Biking in the ice, snow, and rain, is an option. You're not going to see any of that in a SuperBowl ad.

And failing that, if you could get all the people with 10-mile-or-less commutes to bike a couple days per week, you might feel safer driving a smaller car on your long commute. Or, depending on where your son's school is, drive there, park nearby, then bike the rest of the way. If you biked regularly, you could also view the bike on the car as really-nasty-weather insurance; the bike can go when the cars cannot (because you can always walk/carry it around an obstacle).

Posted by: dr2chase on December 20, 2007 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

One side effect of incandescent light bulbs is that they act as localized radiant space heaters -- that people turn on and off when they go from room to room without even thinking about it. When the weather is cold, this allows people to set their central furnaces to lower temperatures without being uncomfortably cold -- a certain amount of heat awaits them at the flip of the light switch.

This isn't something people plan or do consciously -- it's just a consequence of the presence of additional heat sources in the rooms people use. If you feel warm, you turn down the thermostat. If you feel cold, you turn it up. Eventually you find a setting you like and leave it there, and that setting is based partly on the heat from your light bulbs, especially if you use high wattage bulbs.

CFLs and LEDs don't have the warming side effect of light bulbs. I suspect that in cold weather, when people are forced to switch to CFLs and LEDs, many are going to find themselves colder in their homes and turn up their thermostats, thus increasing the heat in their entire houses. I also suspect that the increased energy usage due to increased central home heating will likely swamp any benefits of switching to CFLs and LEDs.

Posted by: John Schulien on December 21, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly