I extracted two useful items from an otherwise poor lecture by a Toyota regulatory affairs staffer. He was explaining their opposition to the flexible fuels mandate.
The two useful items were:
You can tell he is from the Toyota production system experience. They concentrate their design and engineering on regular steady improvement, based on measurement and experience. Toyota does not like big radical changes.
The rest of his talk needed a lot of work on clarity and presentation.
The core of Toyota's opposition to the flexible fuels mandate is that the cost will be much more than the politicians estimate, and the other savings minimal. Instead of mandating that automobiles run on any mix of gasoline, ethanol, or methanol as long as it is at least 15% gasoline, he suggested mandating a mix range with at least 75% gasoline. This would make a huge difference in cost and reliability. He argued that the fuel impact of that difference would be nil. If you take the largest prediction of ethanol/methanol production for 2030 and the smallest prediction for gasoline needs by assuming that mileage targets are met, there will only be enough ethanol and methanol to make a 25% methanol/ethanol 75% gasoline mix.
Summary: Examples of good climate investment and a bad investment. Unfortunately, the environmentalist hucksters are pushing the bad investments constantly. The crony capitalists are doing worse.
This summer the Tower 55 project got funding. It's a $90 million construction job fixing a major railroad bottleneck, eliminating mutual traffic interference with local highways, and improving traffic flow for rail and roads. It will be $40 million of government funds (for the highway work) and $50 million in private funds (for the rail, environmental, legal, admin, etc.). Esitmated carbon reduction is 180 million lbs, giving a cost of $1000/ton for carbon reductions.
I reviewed the financial proposals for a local solar power park. This will be a $12 million investment, paid for primarily by tax credits on the contruction (3 million) and green energy credits for electricity production (9 million). The unadjusted revenue from power generation basically covers the operation and maintenance costs. It will eliminate 3 million lbs of carbon, giving a cost of $8000/ton for carbon reductions.
There are far too many projects like this being pushed. In terms of both economic impact and climate impact, this money should go the projects like Tower 55. But this one will probably be funded. The environmentalist hucksters want publicity, shiny toys, etc. Actual climate impact comparisons are not part of their creed.
The extensive corruption and mismanagement of government agencies and funds is surfacing with new stories weekly from the US, India, and elsewhere. Crony capitalism is well entrenched and has found many ways to extract money from environmental concerns.
Part of dealing with this is to always ask "what will the cost per ton of carbon reductions be?" Cost must include construction costs, subsidies, tax credits, incentives, etc. Look at the total social cost. Then compare projects. For organizations with a track record, also compare their original estimates with the actual results upon project completion. It's a modest step that is easy to explain and easy to justify. It's enough to make a big shift away from bad projects to good projects.
I haven't ranted much lately about energy efficiency for the simple reason that it's becoming widely adopted and its saving a lot of energy. The eco-activists are still unhappy. I've even read some VC complaining bitterly that people are spending their money on energy efficiency rather than the VC's new alternative energy thing.
Press coverage is rare because the buyers are doing this to save money, so why waste money on PR efforts? Sometimes you do get energy control companies that think the PR is worthwhile, especially for famous buildings. But most of the saving is from small renovations and replacement of facilities and equipment. Those don't make the news.
So it was nice to see the net effect is large enough that it now sometimes makes the news.
The latest NEMA numbers for CFL sales indicate significant success. Unfortunately, the press release doesn't do the numbers for the press, and the press and public are innumerate. So they are interpreting the numbers as indicating problems.
The past three years have shown CFL sales at 28, 20, and 24% of total bulb sales. This is after a fairly rapid ramp up from a few percent. This indicates a huge success, but that is obscured by the difference in bulb lifespan.Consider a steady state situation where half the use is CFL and half the use is incandescents. CFL's last 8 times longer than incandescents. So for every CFL that needs replacing, there will be eight incandescent replacements. That's an 11% market share for CFLs. The following matrix shows the bulb sales share for different steady state situations, with both a five and eight times life (because for several years there were quality problems with some of the CFL makers).
|Market penetration||5* Longer||8* Longer|
If the present situation is steady state, the current sales percentage would mean 60 to 75% of installed bulb usage is CFLs. If lifespan is 8 times longer and current installed bulb usage is 50%, then installed usage increased by 13% last year to 63%. Either way these numbers indicate a substantial success for CFLs.
(This analysis does not incorporate the lag effect from longer life. CFLs sold this year will not need replacement for several years, which means that each sale that replaces an incandescent means no bulb sale at all for a few years. This will also cause a temporary dip in CFL sales as they replace the incandescents but don't yet need replacement themselves.)
I see a new push of frivolous polls about the public attitudes toward various energy efficiency activities. I call them frivolous because they seem designed to confuse rather than inform. They paired questions like "Is it good to walk to work?" (lots of yes answers) with the responses to "Do you walk to work?" (lots of no answers). It's impractical for people to change this sort of behavior. They have to change jobs, relocate, or both to make this kind of change. Substantive change will take many years. This makes questions like these frivolous.
More serious and accurate answers are available for some kinds of behavior. For example, the statistics for CFL usage can be obtained with accuracy by looking at sales data. People may lie and polls can only statistically sample at best. Actual sales figures are available. Unfortunately, 2009 is not yet published, but you can see a serious change start in 2005 and accelerate through 2007. The energy impact is larger than the graphs would imply. CFLs last 5-10 times longer than incandescent sales.
Those graphs are also normalized to 2006. In 2006 the actual CFL bulbs sold was about 100 million, and the actual incandescent bulbs sold was about 1,600 million. So that gradual drop in incandescent bulbs sold is actually a large reduction. The 24% CFL sales means continued substantial erosion of incandescent sales. The longer life should also result in both incandescent and CFL sales dropping. There are early hints of that in the 2008 data.
There is an new example of how the Congressional micro-management and mercantilism can be counter productive. The DOE just this month issued the regulation allowing stimulus funding to be used for purchase of CFLs. There are no US makers of CFLs, so the "buy american" portions of the spending bills has prevented use of stimulus money for their purchase. Now it is permitted.
CNet reports big increases in the (very small) market for small wind systems. This seems likely to be another case of hope and enthusiasm that is not justified by the reality. The ever pragmatic Dutch have done a study of a dozen different small wind systems (report in Dutch, article in English). The result is that the Dutch will not subsidize or give special rates to small wind systems. They do have special deals for the large wind systems. But the economics are so poor in terms of cost per KWh or per ton of CO2 saved that they will not encourage small wind use.
Small wind will continue to have uses in special situations where they are the best economic choice. But the romantic push for small wind all over suburbs does not make sense.
The implementation and management of various eco-projects also matter a lot. Among the various recent articles in Financial Times is one that describes the ongoing failure of the methane recovery systems from pig manure in Mexico. I've mentioned the various successes in South Asia and elsewhere with these systems. They are very important in many developing countries. The technology itself was shown to work in Mexico, with a few successful systems. But, construction quality problems, intertie and related problems wth the electrical grid, and other management problems have resulted in most of the systems not working.
There has been a similar shift in the small locomotive industry. The Green Goat hybrid locomotives have run into serious problems. A problem with the batteries led to a major recall that drove the manufacturer into bankruptcy. They've since been purchased and may recover, but genset locomotives have taken 2/3 of the market. The hybrid approach of batteries and one large engine is not superior to the approach of having 3 smaller engines and only running as many as are needed.
In both cases the concept was sound, but you need good management and implementation as well.
An ongoing failure provides some good news on the world energy tech front. This failure is the solar cooker efforts.
Solar cookers are one the enduring faith vs reason battles when aiding the poor in third world countries. The current leading solar cooker costs about $10, uses mostly local materials, and meets about 75% of cooking needs. Clouds, bad weather, and high temperature needs drive the remaining 25%. They continue to fail in response to:
These all act to reduce the deforestation in South Asia, and the manure gas systems also reduce the methane emissions from livestock. They lower the immediate demand for fossil fuels, although this reduction is a very small percentage of world use. They primarily make the agricultural areas much less dependent on fossil fuels. There is only a little excess production to support more urban uses. Variations on the cooker technology are also sold in Africa, where wood fueled cookers are also used.
The gobar systems may even improve life in Afghanistan if the civil war ever subsides enough to enable reconstruction of permanent fixtures like the qanats and construction of gobar gas generators. The Gurkhas are certainly pushing for it (toward the end of the article).
I noticed this nice writeup on the early experiences with the Beluga Skysails. It gives some real numbers, like a 10% reduction in fuel use for the ship, and a realistic report on how the highly risk averse maritime industry evaluates and reacts to a radically new technology. Kudos to the US Navy for supporting this effort with their long term contract to use the ship. They understand that it takes several years of genuine operational experience to settle in a technology. (At least in this case. The USN overall track record is a lot shakier.) A few more years and some higher fuel prices may see more of these ships be launched or retro-fitted. The retro-fit alternative is one thing that makes this technology interesting. It reduces the capital investments needed.
The cover page has a better picture. The photo in the article is some heavily photoshopped composite. I've seen the real ship carrying the real wind turbines, and it did not look like that at all. They did go for a symbolic use of a sail assisted ship carrying wind turbine on it's first commercial voyage. But it was only turbine blades above decks.