Drumbeat: May 23, 2010

Energy Transition: The Intractability of the Built Environment

In the previous world of Ricardian Comparative Advantage, the decline of North American oil supply didn’t matter so much. But now that oil is no longer a cheap widget that can be efficiently sourced globally, regional and domestic supplies have started to matter. Whether or not you agree with solutions like the Pickens Plan (opens to video page at the recent Milken conference), you at least have to give Mr Pickens credit for identifying the problem: a very nasty mechanism, if you will, of increased capital outflows for increasingly expensive global oil is now at work like a buzz saw on the US economy. And it’s only going to get worse from here.

If the solution to a problem is unsufficiently scaled to the size of the problem, then at best we can say it’s a token solution. And token solutions are what the US has been trying out for 40 years, on the matter of energy. 8 billion for High Speed Rail? Sorry, but the restoration of rail in this country is an 800 billion dollar project and that would be just for the first wave. Adoption of electric vehicles, as part of some cultural need to maintain US car culture? Sure, at realistic adoption rates you might be running mostly on EVs in 150-200 years. Switch the powergrid to 100% renewable resources like Wind and Solar in ten years? Not likely. But maybe if you are willing to withdraw the entirety of US armed services from overseas, devote the entire military budget for 10 years, and match that workforce with highly skilled workers from the private sector, then maybe you can make a dent by 2020.

Oil spill caused by 'a confluence of unfortunate events'

Although the exact cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion isn't certain, at least a dozen offshore drilling experts agree that cement, or pipes encased by cement, had to have failed first.

Currents keep Gulf oil spill farther from Fla.

KEY WEST, Fla. -- A powerful current forecast to bring oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill to the Florida Keys has shifted, though fears remain that the slick will inevitably hit the state.

At a public meeting Saturday, officials tried to allay residents' fears, saying the so-called "loop current" expected to send the oil to Florida had moved west. That could delay the arrival of tar balls and other forms of oil to the Keys.

Obama seeks pledge on offshore drilling

President Barack Obama yesterday declared that offshore oil drilling would only be allowed to continue if firms gave assurances that disasters such as the present Gulf of Mexico spillage would be avoided.

BP won't change dispersant used in oil spill -- for now

(CNN) -- BP plans to continue using a controversial subsea dispersant to break up a plume of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, saying that the leading alternative could pose a risk over the long term, the EPA indicated Saturday.

Drilling Advocate Frustrated By Handling Of Oil Spill

Hutchings is an environmental consultant who typically works with industries to manage environmental risk. He's spent his career forging the middle ground between economic and environmental interests. He lives in Montrose, Ala., on the red clay bluffs that line the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.

"Stories go back to where people supposedly sat on this particular bluff and watched Admiral Farragut and his troops come up the bay," he says. "I'm really hoping the defenses at the mouth of the bay are a little better than they were in the Civil War. But it's distressing, it's permeating. It's touched me from the moment I saw that rig on fire."

Cleaning oil-soaked wetlands may be impossible

ROBERT, La. (AP) — Anger grew along the Gulf Coast as an ooze of oil washed into delicate coastal wetlands in Louisiana, with many wondering how to clean up the month-long mess — especially now that BP's latest try to plug the blown-out well won't happen until at least Tuesday.

Officials are considering some drastic and risky solutions: They could set the wetlands on fire or flood areas in hopes of floating out the oil.

But they warn an aggressive cleanup could ruin the marshes and do more harm than good. The only viable option for many impacted areas is to do nothing and let nature break down the spill.

Could a Sand Barrier Do the Trick?

One reason for the secrecy may be that the plan itself seems in continual flux. The 80-mile barrier would require vast amounts of sand, which is in short supply along the Louisiana coast. According to a story in Saturday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, the state’s plan has shifted gears several times on exactly where they would dredge sand for the barriers. These are not trivial changes, as dredging sand far offshore could add as much as $100 million to the cost of the plan.

Expert Head-Scratching on the Plumes

The discovery that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout may be spreading beneath the sea in plumes of fine droplets came as dismal news early this week. If that observation holds up to further scientific scrutiny, it would mean that the true dimensions of the problem are still invisible, and sea life is being exposed to a heavy load of toxins.

But the discovery, bad as it could prove to be for the ocean, has also created a fascinating problem for big brains of a certain kind. People who spend their time thinking about subjects like fluid dynamics, and turbulent plumes, and supercritical fluids, have gone into overdrive trying to figure out what might be going on a mile beneath the surface of the ocean.

Oil spill makes it third time unlucky for gulf

First Katrina, then the economic meltdown and now BP's disaster is giving the Mississippi Gulf Coast a sense of doom.

Billionaire Ambanis Seek ‘Harmony,’ Scrap Competition Bans

(Bloomberg) -- India’s estranged billionaire Ambani brothers, who split the family empire in 2005, today agreed to compete against each other for the first time, easing a dispute that stalled a power generation project and a telecoms merger.

Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani, the world’s richest siblings, scrapped all existing non-competition agreements between their business groups, and said they hoped “very soon” to negotiate a deal for supplies of natural gas from India’s largest field.

Steve Holliday’s shocking call for cash

National Grid stunned the City with a £3.2 billion rights issue last week — and investors had every right to give the management team a rollicking.

The group repeatedly reassured analysts and shareholders it had no need to issue new equity to fund its capital spending, despite an eye-watering £21 billion debt pile. National Grid consistently claimed it could finance its spending plans through borrowing in the capital markets and that it had no need to tap up investors.

US presses Beijing on clean-energy market access

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke pressed Beijing on Friday to give U.S. clean energy companies greater access to its market to help combat climate change.

Washington is looking to China's booming market for wind, solar and other renewable energy to help fulfill President Barack Obama's pledge to double exports and create 2 million jobs within five years. But Beijing is limiting access to its market, setting up a new trade clash amid disputes about currency, steel and other issues.

No oil spills with the nuclear option

Nuclear power is a safer, more environmentally friendly source of electricity. So why does the US still rely on coal and oil instead?

Fate of GM, workers rides on Volt electric car

“We know the Volt is the last hurrah for GM,” he adds. “It's either do or die.”

Around Michigan, you will hear the same insistent optimism: The Volt is crucial. So much depends on this car. It cannot fail.

Food in the Land of Peak Oil

Because Cuba’s such an interesting real world experiment in peak oil and in local food systems, I took a took a trip there to check it out. All in all, what I saw was pretty amazing, but it raised a lot of questions about what is and isn’t possible here in the U.S. On my own blog, I’m writing up an 11 day diary series describing each day of the trip. I hope to write more analytical pieces about my experiences in Cuba too, but right now I’m just chronicling what happened and going through my audio recordings from each place we visited and about 500 photos. Below, I’ve included one of the diaries – my favorite – to give you a taste of what I saw.

Ready to Ship in Hawaii: 20,000 Tons of Garbage

For a 44-mile-long volcanic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in one of the few parts of the United States where Interstate highways do not actually go between states, the options for getting rid of garbage are limited.

That is how officials here hit upon the idea of shipping some of their garbage to the mainland, at least temporarily. But what was supposed to be a quick fix has turned into a long-running problem after the company that was hired to ship the trash failed to get necessary permits from the federal government.

Shipping slow to sail greener

WHAT is a natural resource that is free, produces zero carbon emissions and has been used to power ships since time immemorial? The answer is, of course, the wind.

The graceful sailing ships that sent the likes of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama to the Americas and India are long gone, though, replaced by vast iron vessels loaded with crude oil, minerals and neat stacks of shipping containers to feed the voracious global economy.

Foes of Calif. global warming law seek gov e-mails

A group seeking to suspend California's global warming law said Thursday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration used its offices to campaign against the initiative, a violation of state law.

Supporters of the proposed initiative are waiting to see whether it will qualify for the November ballot. If approved by voters, the initiative would delay the 2006 climate regulations until California's unemployment rate -- now at 12.6 percent -- drops to 5.5 percent and stays there for a year. That's only happened three times in the past three decades.

Preserve EPA’s right to regulate

IF US SENATOR Scott Brown is at all concerned about global warming, he should firmly oppose an effort by fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases.

Japan, Korea to Exchange Information on Emissions Trading

(Bloomberg) -- Japan and South Korea agreed to exchange information on a proposed emissions-trading mechanism, the Japanese environment ministry said today in a statement.

Norway, U.S. May Pledge Up to $6 Billion to Fight Deforestation

(Bloomberg) -- Norway, the U.S., the U.K. and other donors may raise pledges to help save forests in poorer nations to $6 billion, said Jens Riese, head of sustainable economic development at the consultant McKinsey & Co.

Pacific island nations plead for UN climate help

UNITED NATIONS—Pacific island nations compared global warming to an invading army in a plea Thursday for the U.N. Security Council to break the stalemate in negotiations over a legally binding global climate treaty.

The 11 nations that make up the Pacific Small Island Developing States wrote members of the U.N.'s most powerful body to argue that the threat they face from a warmer world and rising sea levels is comparable to armed conflict. The 15-nation Security Council oversees threats to international peace and security.

"Climate change can devastate a country just as thoroughly as an invading army," Nauru's U.N. Ambassador Marlene Moses said as chair of the island nations' group.

Oceans Warmer and Smaller in New Studies

Two new studies out this week give the best scientific estimates of the average depth of the world's oceans, the total amount of water they contain, and the extent to which this water warmed over the last two decades – the latter being an important measure of climate change.

Help nature or risk humanity: report

THE economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world is even more powerful than the argument for tackling climate change, a report for the United Nations will declare later this year.

The Stern report on climate change, which was prepared for the British Treasury and published in 2006, stated that the cost of limiting climate change would be about 1 to 2 per cent of annual global wealth, but the longer-term economic benefits would be five to 20 times that figure.

The UN's biodiversity report, dubbed Stern for Nature, is expected to say that the value of saving ''natural goods and services'', such as pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be even higher - between 10 and 100 times the cost of saving the habitats and species that provide them.

Some Simple Net Export Math

The simplistic Export Land Model (ELM) assumes an oil exporting country that hits peak production and then declines at 5%/year, with a 2.5% rate of increase in consumption, with consumption equal to 50% of production at peak production rate.

Instead of projecting net export volumes (and instead of discussing two exponential functions), an alternative, and simpler, way of portraying net export declines is to simply plot consumption as a percentage of production. When this number hits 100%, by definition the exporter transitions from net exporter status to net importer status.

In any case, at final peak Export Land was consuming 50% of production. At the end of year three, they were consuming 63% of production. Consumption, as a percentage of production, increased at 8%/year. So, 10 years after the peak, if we extrapolate the trend, they would be consuming 111% of production (the model shows them going to zero net oil exports in 9 years).

In 2005, Saudi Arabia consumed 18% of production. In 2008, they consumed 22% of production (EIA). Extrapolated out for 25 years (from 2005), in 2030, they would be consuming 104% of production (Sam Foucher’s modeling shows them approaching zero net oil exports between 2030 and 2035).

And of course, this presumably would work for ELM 2.0 (the observed tendency for developing countries like China & India, i.e., “Chindia,” to outbid developed countries for declining net oil exports).

Chindia’s combined net oil imports, as a percentage of (2005) top five net oil exports went from 19% in 2005 to 27% in 2008, a 12%/year rate of increase. Extrapolated out for 14 years (from 2005), to 2019, Chindia’s combined net imports would be 102% of (2005) top five net oil exports, i.e., 102% of combined net oil exports from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Iran and the UAE. If we take Sam's best case for the (2005) top five net oil exports, and if we extrapolate Chindi'a current rate of increase in net oil imports, we get the same answer (Chindia approaching 100% of top five net oil exports around 2018).

In somma: shark fin straight ahead....

Thanks westexas.

But how likely is it that Saudi Arabia would ever let it's only source of income be fully consumed at home thus bringing no cash into the country and hence starving the populace?

The mathematics works for me but I can never see them running it that far

I try to remember to use phrases like "approaching zero net oil exports," and I think that a lot of world trade will gradually be reduced to trade between net food exporters and net energy exporters.

Incidentally, this approach suggests that Mexico will remain a net oil exporter longer than a lot of us (including me) thought possible. In 2004, their apparent final production peak, they were consuming 53% of production. In 2007, they were at 60%, a 4%/year rate of increase. So at this rate, in 2014 they would be consuming about 80% of production, but still (net) exporting.

There could be another form of trade. Energy exporting countries with population pressures may choose to export energy in exchange for immigration visas.

Offhand I am not sure exactly which countries would be the most pressured, except to say that anytime an energy producing country is on the verge of switching from exporter to importer, they may perceive that they have an excess population problem.

Saudi Arabia is rapidly setting up the expansion of its refining capacity. This is for two intertwined reasons: 1. they will using more oil of lower/different quality which can be best optimized by a new refinery and 2. they want to obtain the "value added", or additional profit, of refinery production (value added being the words directly from KSA).

So they intend to make more money off each barrel of oil by refining it themselves, which appears to make sense in light of ELM.

I think I need to download todban again and add westexas to my list of blocked users.

Every time I read his posts, I get the cr*p scared out of me.

How am I supposed to sleep after I read this stuff? I will be sending a bill for my Ambien to attn: Mr. Jeffrey J. Brown, Dallas, Texas.

My question is, will being long WTI be useful here? If Chindia (and KSA) really are putting that much pressure on exports by the late 20-teens, it seems that WTI futures should hold up a lot better than the S&P. I don't need to make a lot of money, but I'm aiming for "return of capital, not return on capital".

FYI: The current version of todban doesn't work well - I need to go in and tweak it again sometime.

I know you weren't serious about adding westexas to the list, but your post reminded me that there was a problem I need to fix..

I vote for him (WT) to be thrown off the island. . .

What might be useful is an auto delete function, which deletes one's posts as soon as they appear--it would be a way to wean ourselves off of TOD.

auto delete function, ...it would be a way to wean ourselves off of TOD.

That is hilarious WT.

How about deleting all the automobiles instead? There`s an "auto delete" I can go along with!

Please don't sell yourself short, WT, even in jest. We all need TOD. However, we all need to take a break once in a while. Maybe you need a rest?

Or those shades that darken when something terrifying appears before you.

Hey, who turned out the lights?!

I don't trade futures myself - even though I have previously worked in a major Wall Street trading room where futures were actively traded for the account of the firm.

The problem with WTI futures is what they represent - only a claim on a certain type of oil that is stored in Cushing, OK. It's possible that a wierd sequence of events could make the price of WTI go down and other grades/types of oil go up.

Alternatively I would suggest buying an oil company stock is a company that has most of its value in a lot of easy to access oil reserves. I like Candian oil trusts for this, but I wouldn't want to bet too much on one country or one company.

"Alternatively I would suggest buying an oil company stock is a company that has most of its value in a lot of easy to access oil reserves. I like Candian oil trusts for this, but I wouldn't want to bet too much on one country or one company."

Maybe a geographically diversified company like BP ??

"My question is, will being long WTI be useful here?"

If you buy WTI for some time in the distant future and the price is $100. The TSHTF and we go into a much more serious depression and money is scarce and gas is 50 cents; you are in trouble with the contract. It is quite possible for oil to go down yet no one can afford it. In 1920 gas was 25 cents/gal and the average farm wage was 25 cents per day. Of course then you could buy a lot of groceries for a dollar.

Eligibility for the credit -- a maximum of $900 a year for non-seniors and $1,025 for seniors


Canadians who can't afford the new higher rates for electricity will be subsidized leading to no change in electricity consumption. Socialism at its greatest. If a person has a high consumption then maybe they should receive a free energy evaluation and credits for charging inefficient appliances.

Also I have been following this guy for a while:

Ontario Hydro is Greece with the rescue package permanently in place!

Canadians who can't afford the new higher rates for electricity will be subsidized leading to no change in electricity consumption. Socialism at its greatest.

That's just plain silly. The tax credit is aimed at helping poor people adjust to the impact of the HST and higher electricity costs. Which it will do, and in doing so, help all those businesses who depend on these people's consumption, as little as it is for most.

The incentive to reduce electricity consumption remains the same. (What type of socialism functions on the basis of financial incentives?) Pay less for electricity and more money is available for consumption of other goods and services, mostly rent in the case of most of those who will be eligible for this credit.

Most of the energy saving opportunities are beyond the reach of the targetted population. Even if you could afford the price of a more efficient water heater would you do so if you were buying it for your landlord?

It's not so silly when it happens right next door. 3 welfare cheques combined will get you a house and the gov't foots the bill for the hydro. An educated society would be able to understand these issues. That is why we homeschool.

In the US, huge welfare checks will get you a bank or an "insurance" company. Canada is small potatoes, I aver.

Does homeschooling teach you that anecdotes and broad generalizations don't count as empirical evidence. I would be curious to know how you could know how the neighbors are paying their bills without violating their privacy.

Privacy, Invasion Thereof:

I have found that if you are on friendly terms with people and do not express any criticism of thier activities or lifestyles, but simply listen, and make a sympathetic remark occasionally, they will tell you all sorts of things that they probably shouldn't.

Listening w/o criticizing causes people to accept you as one of their personal "in group",and soon they will begin sharing all sorts of information that couldn't be bought with money.

You will learn that rather than being ashamed, some people are proud of gaming the system and collecting a few bucks in welfare benefits;that others can share a little pot or nose candy "as a favor to you" "at cost"of course;that others are simply lonely and like to gossip, and just happen to know about who is having an affair, or has a std.

I have first hand knowledge of at least two local couples formerly happily married who have found it to their advantage to get divorced and not long after resume domestic life "in sin".

I also know at least two or three more couples that will not get married as doing so would mean the loss of certain benefits, including the common ones formerly known as food stamps, free school lunches, access to a county operated clinic,rental assistance, and child support exacted from a former spouse.

Locally,if a woman has kids to look after, and no particular job skills, she can collect at least half of what she could earn on any job she possibly get, after taxes.After allowing for the necessary expenses associated with holding a job, such as transportation, suitable clotheing, and child care,very little, if anything, is left from a low paid job.

Now add in the fact that by staying home she has plenty of time to take care of from scratch cooking, keep her home nice and clean,take on the occasional cash job babysitting or cleaning for a better of nieghbor.She is not nearly as stressed as when working forty plus doing all the other;she is usually actually rested, and maybe even WAY likely to be in an agreeable frame of mind when the man in her life shows up.

She can do a really good of of making every available dollar count.( John Micheal Greer's recent piece on the household economy is superlative and anyone who missed it should read it.)

I have known a few women living this way who managed to attract and maintain the interest of two or three men silmantaneously, and hold it.

She may very well climb in her man's truck if she is a one woman man, as most are, and go out and help him with whatever it is he does for a living or as a sideline to pick up some extra money, if the kids are at school.

Now all welfare households don't work like this, but a great many do;and the people who live in them feel just as entitled to the benefits so obtained as the car dealers and the UAW scarfing up bailout money, or any other person who collects a subsidy of any sort.

The typical social worker is either an idiot or else she knows enough to know that her job is to keep her mouth shut and make sure the office runs smoothly;NOBODY WHATSOEVER is interested in the least in opening all the worm cans.

Somewhere along the line Edward Abbey wrote up his experience working in a welfare office;it should be mandatory reading , for everybody, across the board.

For those who think me sexist for focusing on women, all I can say is that they are invariably the ones who have custody of the children, and therefore are in a position to game the system in the way I just outlined.

Their boyfriends to my thinking are equally to blame, if blame is a relevant word.Personally as a Darwinist I just see people surviving by whatever means are the best and easist at hand.As a conservative, I see everything playing out exactly as expected;as a conservative with a brain,I recognize that these programs , under current conditions, are both necessary and permanent.We have enough troubles as it is without third world riots and famine and all that such scenarios entail.

Men game the system too, but their opportunites are fewer, and tend to be short term more often.

NYC bus drivers TAKE AN AVERAGE of three months off to soothe thier hurt feelings , at full pay and benefits of course,if somebody spits on them, according to yesterday's NYT.

Actually, that sounds like a great use of welfare money. I'm sure if more people were being paid to stay at home and "game the system" we might be in less of a predicament than we are now. Personally, I'd rather have my tax money go to subsidies for single mothers or women living at home than any other else, at least it helps reduce ecological footprint. We need all the help we can to stop this continuing productivity-being active-growth non-sense.

(slightly but not completely tongue in cheek)

Canadians who can't afford the new higher rates for electricity will be subsidized leading to no change in electricity consumption.

Incorrect, I think, for at least three reasons. The effect on consumption will be reduced, but not eliminated.

The first is the most obvious: not all consumers will receive the tax credit. Those who do not get the credit will see higher bills but not a higher post-tax income, and will presumably reduce their usage.

The second is consumer preferences. If power prices go up by $100/month, and post-tax income goes up by $100/month, you assume the consumer will spend all of the added income on power. Instead, they may reduce their power usage so that they only spend $75/month of the new income on power, and the other $25 on other things. Spending preferences are a function of both total income and relative pricing.

The third depends on the timing of the tax credit. If it all arrives at one time, that may make it possible for the consumer to spend it on efficiency rather than power. It is often noted that one reason the poor don't buy as many CFLs as the wealthy is that they have to come up with the price of the CFL upfront. A lump-sum tax credit may make it possible for the poor to "invest" in efficiency.

The last is underappreciated. In a different industry, the poor switch from cable TV to satellite TV at a much lower rate than the middle-class or wealthy, even though satellite may be a better deal for them. The main reasons are that satellite TV service generally requires a sizable upfront payment, and a credit card for monthly billing; these are hurdles that many of the poor can't get past. Similarly for energy conservation improvements.

The NY Times has an article about a study that followed families for every waking moment, to see how they spent their time and how it affected their stress levels.

Apparently, nobody goes outside any more.

Husbands and wives were together alone in the house only about 10 percent of their waking time, on average, and the entire family was gathered in one room about 14 percent of the time. Stress levels soared — yet families spent very little time in the most soothing, uncluttered area of the home, the yard.

...Outside the homes, the yards were open and green — but “no one was out there,” said Jeanne E. Arnold, a U.C.L.A. archaeologist who worked on the study. One family had a 17,000-square-foot yard, with a pool and a trampoline, and not even the children ventured out there during the study.

Uh - 8 years old, and unable to tie shoelaces ???

And what's with the jacket? The study was done in L.A.

Sheesh. Not really unable. Quite obviously, if the context is any guide at all, unwilling. Didn't any 8-year-old in your life ever do some such thing???

Let's see. . . lack of exposure to sunlight has some kind of detrimental effect, it will come to me in a minute. . . .

Yup...even my dog and 3 cats know this - they line up at the back door, in the morning, waiting to go out and catch some sun, especially after a winter indoors.

It will be ironic if it does turn out that Vitamin D deficiency is a principal contributor to autism:


That would be an interesting development.

Well, here in Wisconsin, the unofficial state bird is the mosquito. The unofficial list of seasons is July, August, and winter, although in the southern part that might be June/July, August/September, and winter. Then there are the biting flies, yellow jackets, and other assorted noxious nuisances.

So most of the time, it's too bloody cold to be sitting around outside, or else it's too bloody hot, or else, as on a summer evening, it would be OK except that the air is thick with noxious pests. A terraformed planet free of noxious pests would be delightful, but for obvious reasons it's not currently on anyone's to-do list.

There is usually, however, one brief window during the spring when it's pleasant to be sitting still outside. That's the week or two after it gets warm enough to be pleasant and before the first batch of mosquitoes has matured. At all other times, well, forget about it. There's a reason why so many of the old houses, built before air-conditioning, had screened porches for people to cram into on steamy summer evenings.

Although I've visited Los Angeles, I'm not very familiar with it. But other desert areas in the southwest are often infested with noxious biting flies and the like. If that applies, then I can't imagine why any sane person would choose to sit around outside there, any more than here, even when the temperature is pleasant. Nothing much to do out there but get bit up and take a chance on West Nile.

Oh, and I wonder about things like that pool. I suppose it's more for "property values" than for any practical utility. But that may not matter - with the population still growing, sooner or later I'd expect to see it dried up by draconian water restrictions - probably imposed as much to stick it to "the rich" as to conserve water.

So if it is that bad why to millions of people still live in Wisconsin? I ask this as a resident of a SoCal town with weather so boring and unobtrusive that there's no need to check the weather forecast most of the year.

For now, hardly anyone needs to move. They're mostly free to take the outdoors in safely controlled doses. In areas infested with bears, cougars, or other deadly vermin, go out in groups or in a safely enclosed vehicle or at least armed and alert. In general, take an hour here, a few hours there; duck inside when frostbite threatens or the pests unbearable or staying alert to the vermin has brought exhaustion or whatever. Even the farm equipment often sports comfortably enclosed air-conditioned cabs. It follows - consistent with the case in the NYT - that most people would not be living outdoors or spending great gouts of time there.

I'm simply pointing out that this seems perfectly sensible; I see no reason for the implied complaint about it. There's nothing to wallow in sentiment or regret over. North America, like most of the world, is simply for the most part a somewhat inhospitable and unhealthy place. There isn't now, and never was, any Arcadia. Even the (mythical) Garden Of Eden was just that - a garden, a controlled space, "paradise", meaning, at root, "enclosure" - not an uncontrolled wilderness.

Modern industrialism finally makes it practical for the first time in history for most to protect themselves effectively. Most in fact are, also for the first time in history, which for some reason seems to induce silly bouts of nostalgia. The one group who can't protect themselves are the elderly; many of them do indeed head south once their doctors advise them never to set foot out the door when it's icy. That's absurdly impractical, especially now that many cities have cut back on de-icing due to "environmental considerations".

In the old days, people settled where they did because practical alternatives weren't necessarily much better in one place than another. South and east, one finds milder winters but more horrid summers laden with even worse swarms of pests and mosquitoes. Much of the humid east and south used to be dangerously malarial, with European diplomatic services needing at times to offer hazard pay in their Washington DC embassies (nostalgic gobacks often conveniently forget little details of this sort.) Further west, one encountered arid land which was extremely sparsely populated until it became possible to irrigate it from deep fossil aquifers.

In modern times, of course, industrialism adds the possibility to move to a high altitude place in the far southwest, where the winters and summers may both be mild and where the dry climate may be somewhat hostile to mosquitoes and the like. Some of those places are in the mountains, where expensively built highways and oil-fired motor vehicles now take care of the off-putting extreme social isolation once imposed by steep slopes and rough terrain. On the high desert plateau, expensive water works now take care of the water problem. In both types of place, extensive oil-fired trucking and sometimes expensive water works take care of the often limited ability to grow food regionally or locally.

None of that was possible in the early days of settlement, so very, very few could live in such places. Nowadays, the very same industrialism that makes it possible to move (at the cost of separating from family) and live there also removes the need to do so by removing the need to live outdoors.

The Malaria angle is interesting. Its something I've not thought about. Although I've been in general looking at the north vs south issue. I agree to some extent with what your saying about the south.
In general if TSHTF type situation unfolds one could expect a resurgence of diseases like Malaria to be a real problem again. Just checked and it was not surprisingly a real problem in Oregon also.

To be honest I've basically avoided thinking about diseases not much you can do about them and they could get really out of hand fairly quickly.

However I have given some serious thought about the pros and cons of living in a place with more intense winters. It comes down to keeping warm vs other issues and also exactly how things unfold.

One has to imagine that if diseases like Malaria come back then we have seen a significant break down which suggests other more immediate problem are probably occurring.

I keep returning to the conviction that perhaps remaining nomadic and willing to move as things play out is a better approach than many think.

As a general rule,I'd expect colder climates to be healthier disease-wise. Also, keeping food throughout the year is also easier.

I think people should move before they need to. It is a lot easier to adjust to a big change from a position of strength rather than from a position of weakness.

In the old days, people settled where they did because practical alternatives weren't necessarily much better in one place than another. South and east, one finds milder winters but more horrid summers laden with even worse swarms of pests and mosquitoes. Much of the humid east and south used to be dangerously malarial, with European diplomatic services needing at times to offer hazard pay in their Washington DC embassies (nostalgic gobacks often conveniently forget little details of this sort.)

You forgot yellow fever. And dengue fever.

However, with modern knowledge of mosquito control, there hasn't been a significant outbreak of any of these diseases for nearly a century in coastal Texas, where I live and where there were frequent major epidemics during the 19th century. Note that the epidemics ceased well before effective insecticides were invented.

I have lived without air conditioning in hot climates (in Indonesia, Philippines and Australia). I think the problems are exaggerated. I spent all day last Saturday outdoors, with the temperature around 90F. Voluntarily. Just drink plenty of fluids, and use sunblock.

I have also lived in areas where it gets very cold (Antarctica), and the requirements there are adequate clothing and some form of shelter, together with fairly minimal heating.

In both hot and cold climates the critical factor is drinking water. In a hot climate you need a lot of it, and it can be easily contaminated. In a cold climate it freezes. Food is needed to survive, of course, but in a cold climate you need more food, and you need to store enough to last through the winter.

It is not a coincidence that the parts of the world with large populations living in abject poverty are tropical. In places that have a real winter, the really poor tend to die during the winter.

That might not always be the case. We are going to see regions with higher temperatures and especially higher "wet bulb" temps (=temperature+humidity) than exist today on earth, possibly so hot that they won't be survivable in the hottest parts of the year.


Well, here in Wisconsin, the unofficial state bird is the mosquito.

Pfft! birds... I used to have to travel for work to Amapa, the northern most state in Brazil, above the Amazon. The squadrons of mosquitoes there are officially part of the Brazilian Air Force, and they are not known to take prisoners...

The squadrons of mosquitoes there are officially part of the Brazilian Air Force, and they are not known to take prisoners...

And, I bet this Air Force is probably more capable of relelling invaders than anything humans can come up with. I had always thought that mosquitos got more numerous as you approach the polar regions. But at least the polar mosquitos don't carry so many nasty diseases, they have to kill you by extracting so much blood that you die.

Ummm...yeah. I'm afraid it always amazes me to see glossy NPR/Nature programs glibly extolling the magical mystical virtues of places like Amazonia - and after that to go and read one of the diaries about the endless pustulating bug-bites, the endless rotting of socks, clothing, and skin, and all the other such wonders that make those places seem like nothing but another level in Dante's hell. As (I think) Arthur C. Clarke once remarked, the ability of the human mind to hold two mutually incompatible points of view is simply breathtaking.

It all depends on your point of view. I spent a dozen years in the Badger state. I was very much into cross country skiing, so the seasons were January, and tough sledding. The mosquito thingy is very much location dependent, it can go from horrible, to nice or the reverse in five miles. We did have a lot of vacation homes where people from further south came in the summer.

Now I'm in Northern California. I'd rather have Wisconsin weather and greenery. Pools often hurt rather than help property values. But they are quite popular. Of all the places I've lived this has the fewest bugs. Even New Mexico had several times more mosquitos than here.

"The mosquito thingy is very much location dependent, it can go from horrible, to nice or the reverse in five miles."

True, although the location pattern can change randomly to some extent from year to year. Last summer there was little problem. Some other summers were awful.

The really nice thing, as I pointed out elsewhere, is that for the time being, industrialism allows one (in considerable measure) to have it both ways, since one is no longer obliged to live outdoors. One can have the greenery, and simply go inside when it becomes unbearable outside for whatever reason. Or one can have an equable year-round climate at high altitude in the dry southwest, and simply eat food trucked in from elsewhere. Or one can live in, oh, what's that place people yammer on about, Willits, CA, and yet mitigate the stifling social isolation that would once have been enforced by the rough terrain, simply by driving a lot on expensively built highways.

I live just North of Detroit and have spent every chance I've had this Spring in the garden ands I just saw my second mosquito this maorning.
And we've had lots of rain.
At my lifeboat last week, 5 hours North of here, I paused while cutting wood certain that that the whine I was hearing was coming from a distant truck. Yet it never got any closer.
Then it dawned on me to look up, at literally millions of gnats who were generating that sound. The cloud their bodies made was yards thick and extended as far as I could see.
Nature has a subtle way that reminds one that it just ain't about us.

I'm in Detroit. The mosquitos got bad a few days ago. We've had rain coming and going for a while, so no surprise, I guess.

More bites to come tomorrow.


I stumbled onto the solution for us anyway.
Watching birds especially the violet green barn swallows has been entertaining, so I built a few bird houses for them. The next year more came back. So I built more houses, and more came back....you get the idea. These little birds form a swarm out here. Feeding 3-4 babies per pair of adults makes for absolutely amazing "bug kill". Nothing special as they don't eat seeds hence no seed expense, and are very co - habitable to have around. Lots of noise when feeding chicks. The predation on insects makes being outside a "non-biting insect" experience for 95% of the year.

Moving nest boxes from year to year does cause some undue stress. Birds return to the same location the next year and sit looking for the box that was there the year before. The only logical conclusion is they were here the year before. Started out a few years ago with maybe 5-8 mated pairs. Last year after fledging we counted well over 80 individuals. 80+ birds, feeding all day every day, can really put the hurt on the bug population in @ 4 acres of open area.
I consider nest box construction and maintainance to be a very small price to pay for the lack of insects and pesticides.

Great response to the problem. I'll have to find out what the birds are that are constantly in our yard and see if the same approach will work. They don't seem to be feeding on insects, though.


There is a swampy area just below the driveway of my house. Most visitors immediately ask about mosquitos. Never a problem, bats have been staying in one of the old barns for years. Building a few bat houses might be an option, if no one in the household is too squeamish about bats.

Must admit when I crank open the umbrella on the patio table I step back as far as I can. They like to stay up in the top of that also.

The unofficial list of seasons is July, August, and winter, although in the southern part that might be June/July, August/September, and winter.

Well, I think you should consider emigrating to Australia - most of the year for most of the country. living outside is magic. Sure there are bugs and moths at times - but no-one cares - and if you plan your year well, you can have 365 days a year in balmy conditions (65-85 degrees F) every day. The Lucky Country indeed.

Last I heard Australia was the poster-child for GW hell--permanent drought, farmers giving up in droves, desalination plants needed to supply fresh water to the urban population...

I just asked my dad if I could tie my shoes at 8, he said yes. But then went on to say that I was always taking them off. I know that the one thing I hated to do as a kid and even as an adult is hunt for shoes. I have to wear sandals now, because of my feet swelling due to the damage to my veins from the blood clots in 2005. But I was wearing sandals back in 1995 because they freed my feet like nothing else had besides being barefoot. Working I'd wear work boots, but I prefer barefoot to anything else.

But I can't imagine not going outside if I had a pool to swim in, I can't fathom that. I mean I would burn, I have pale skin and none of my mom's olive complexion. But as soon as the sun goes down, it's outside to the pool, I might even sleep in the water for the fun of floating.

One thing that I remember most about growing up is family time, putting puzzles together, playing games, cooking together, going places together. It boggles my mind when I see other people not spending more family time together and wondering why they have problems.

But then again my dad knew how to wash clothes, and knew how to sew and cook too, as did my mother.

But I guess we should be glad they have at least a little insight into the modern family life where both parents work. Not something they could get after finding the bones in the ground in 100 years. I bet more of us would be amazed at other things the study found out if we watched more of those 1,500 hours of video. I am kinda surprised there is not more video footage though.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

CEO, on a similar vein, my experience tells me that even though most moms were home in the heyday of the baby boom, children were not to be underfoot. As a child, if you were home, you were doing chores. Otherwise, you were sent outside to play, to be back promptly for meals. The seasons didn't matter; outside as much in the winter (skating, sledding, snow fort making, only to come in to change frozen mittens or socks) or summer (fishing, swimming, biking, farting around, etc.)

Spoke a while back with a social worker/ psychologist colleague and friend about how nostalgic I was becoming in my middle years. His perspective on things changed drastically after his children reached teenage years when he admitted frankly to having to throw out most of what he learned from text books. He didn't think we were becoming more nostalgic - we really did have more freedom and fun in those days. Parents were not your buddies - "quality time with your children" would have been laughable if not downright absurd - and the name of the game was crowd control. Most of life's lessons were learned through your peers far away from parental supervision: getting into fights, racing bikes, throwing rocks, and for us guys an occasional peeing contest or if girls were around "show and don't tell". The day was less structure and paradoxically more orderly. You had to learn how to get along because they were your buddies. No time for foolishness like bullying; there was always an older brother around to beat the crap out of anyone who picked on those not their own size. Schoolyard and playground justice kept the peace.

Responsibilities were handed out early. Kids, even preschoolers, were expected to make the tea if company came - and then to promptly disappear out of sight. I could handle a small boat (dory) on open water and a loaded gun in the woods well before puberty.

It was a very different world. Funny, I do miss it sometimes. Hence my nostalgia.


One metric missing from this discussion is that people are afraid to have their kids outside alone.

I am.


ccpo, yep, you're bang on. There is a safety issue involved today that wasn't there before. Whereas the baby boomers had safety in numbers the latch-key generation are far more vulnerable.

The bygone level of trust and assurance is also sorely missed.

Psychologists and social workers are mostly dimwits who play along to get along;thier professional bodies have either captured or been captured by (take your choice)the prevailing political paradigm.

You should have seen the sputtering and the hemming and hawing and the eventual non answer I got when I was recently stupid enough to point out that problems in these fields are often politically defined;the professor insisted of course that the profession is right, but I insisted on pointing out that homosexuality was cured by an act of congress rather than by medical intervention, ie it ceased to exist as a medical problem when it ceased to be defined politically as a problem. Cost me an easy A of course!

So naturally the professions involved want to hold all the turf possible so in respect to pot, they define it as an addictive drug.Of course if you twist the language hard enough, soda pop is addictive.

But I know dozens of people who once smoked pot habitually, and not a single one of them ever had a problem quitting it, or got up and drove somewhere at four am to buy some, but I have known people to do that for a cigarette.

Psychologists and social workers are mostly dimwits who play along to get along;thier professional bodies have either captured or been captured by (take your choice)the prevailing political paradigm.

True of any profession in any age.

It is only the exceptionally cranky or clever who are able to move beyond (or for matter move) the constraints of any given cultural paradigm. Most people like equilibrium and will do anything to keep their lives and careers stable.

In all fairness to social workers (some of whom are psychologists), their work is not just with the poor or marginalized, but as often as not, touch on the middle class and well-to-do. Hospitals employ social workers to make sure patients do not fall between the cracks of the system so as to get the home/residential nursing care they need. Police consult with them on situations of domestic disturbances and abuse - and where children, the elderly or the mentally handicapped are involved, guess whose job it is to take them out of harms way?

Are they plagued by bureaucratic restraints and inertia? You betcha! They do have to work within the imperfect boundaries set by policy directives and laws of specific jurisdictions. Easier said than done.

Are some of the decisions they make asinine? You betcha! Working with human beings is an inexact science at the best of times. Throw crisis and trauma into the mix there is "no pleasing nobody."

Most social workers put in long hours, receive little public recognition or support, and are paid pi$$ poor wages. Yet they would be missed if they didn't show up.

FUBAR is alive and well in some quarters....

Big biogas power plant can’t sell its green electricity

NORTH DUMFRIES – About four hours every day, flames shoot into the sky over a 2,700-head veal calf farm east of Cambridge.

Workers at the Grober Nutrition’s Delft Blue farm aren’t in any danger, but it doesn’t make them any happier.

After 10 years of planning and a $2.5 million investment, the controlled burns remind them a showcase electricity-from-manure power plant isn’t hooked up the provincial power grid like its should be, feeding power to hundreds of houses.

“It’s such a waste,” said Ross Blaine, innovation director, at the Cambridge-based agricultural company.

The plant is gearing up for full production of environmentally-friendly biogas to fuel on-site dynamos, but provincial red tape short-circuited the plan.

See: http://news.therecord.com/News/Local/article/715700


Such a waste, that's disturbing.

But such operations as these, a specialty product with trucked in feeds and a quasi source of raw materials-in many operations, bull calves can be a better asset- are perhaps only viable for a limited time. I would rather see on farm, on grass production, but that's opening another comment.

Several weeks ago, I read of one the first large waste-to-energy facilities, the Kettle Falls unit of Avista power, is scrounging for wood. They take mill waste and burn it for electricity. Originally started ~1980 as a response to new air quality regs, the biomass burner replaced numerous of the old "tee pee" slash burners that used to dot the northwest. Now even in the northwest, and scouring to Canada, it's hard to find the fuel. Whether it's economic times forcing mills out of business, or declining timber base, the effects are being felt by the generating plant. They have an effective radius of about 100 miles before transport cost exceed electricity prices. That's sad also. The generating station makes so much sense, but what do you do? To me, the alternative of having the sawmills compost their waste relies on cheap fuel also--it is timber country and the distances to Joe Homeowner in a plastic bag are steep- is shortsighted. But Joe will pay more for bagged landscaping material than his energy. That's sad too.

Whether it's economic times forcing mills out of business, or declining timber base, the effects are being felt by the generating plant.

Aren't more of the big lumber companies putting in their own co-generation facilities (eg, this Weyerhaeuser facility in Alberta))? That's got to cut substantially into the fuel available to a stand-alone power generating outfit.

Your answer, I think, is in your question- "big". This facility takes from a bunch of smaller mills. I'm not aware of any lost contracts, or other cogen taking "their" waste, it's not mentioned in the article, which I found.

"“People think, ‘OK, it’s the Northwest. There’s lots of wood up there,’ ” said John Lyons, Avista’s power supply analyst.

And there is. But grinding up low-value wood and trucking it out of the mountains is expensive. On a per-kilowatt basis, electricity from the biomass plant costs more than electricity from Avista’s dams, a coal-burning plant in Montana or the company’s gas-fired turbines in Boardman, Ore.....

But fueling the plant is a challenge. Each hour that Kettle Falls generates electricity, the furnaces consume 70 tons of wood waste – 60 truckloads per day.

“The Western U.S. is biomass rich … but it’s still about fuel. Can you get it in reasonable quantities and affordable costs? That hasn’t been solved yet,” said David Naccarato of McKinstry Co."


You would think that these people would have learned, before the fact, that if your plant is so big that you use all the local fuel faster than it grows, then eventually you will run into this problem.

The real solution is to build small plants, some times really small (100kwto 2MW) and use gasification an IC engines instead of steam turbines. This creates several advantages;
1. It is actually more energy efficient
2. Capital costs/kW are cheaper
3. you take much longer, if ever, to run out of fuel in the 10mile radius, let alone 100
4. If need be, you can easily pick an move your plant, especially if it was designed with that in mind (trailer/container)

Wood is, by it nature, a distributed energy source, it makes sense to distribute the generation too. Look at hydro, unevenly distributed, so you build your plants where the water is, according to the size (flowrate) , rather than trying to garner all the water in a 100 mile radius.

Small is beautiful, relocatable, and sustainable in this business.

The bigger problem is that there really is no such thing as bio-waste--all of it is needed to go back into the soil to keep fertility from plummeting.

We can and have gotten along without electricity, but not without food.

This competition between the soil and energy production is only going to get more fierce as thing devolve.

Grober is promised 16 cents a kilowatt hour for its power – about double the average selling price today – but can’t sign a contract until the hookup approval arrives.

This line, from the article, may suggest part of the problem. Who has promised them double the market rate for their electricity? Some end customer? The local utility? Some government agency forcing the local utility to pay a higher-than-market rate? If, for example, the local utility is being required to buy this power at a loss, any needed work on the grid to bring this supplier on line would probably go to the bottom of the priority list.

It's the Ontario Power Authority by way of their FIT programme. You can learn more about at: http://fit.powerauthority.on.ca/Page.asp?PageID=122&ContentID=10196&Site...


Okay, so OPA is buying power from the veal farm at rates pretty much set by the Green Energy Act passed by the provincial government. But the grid the farm would attach to is owned by a third party, who seems to be the actual source of the delay. OPA's web site says they signed 694 contracts for renewable power in March and April this year; I wonder how many other new suppliers are having problems getting connected?

One of the standard problems with the market model of electricity regulation (I won't say "deregulation", given that the markets themselves operate under a very extensive set of government rules) is how to get the owners of the transmission grid to invest in speculative upgrades...

In this case, the IPP is physically connecting to the local distribution system that is owned and operated by Cambridge-North Dumfries Hydro, and we're told that this local utility issued all of the necessary approvals within five days; as far as I can determine, no transmission upgrades are required. The problem appears to be related to OPA's approval process and, more specifically, the need to demonstrate the firm's financial capacity to build a plant that already exists.

Blaine knows he needs approval to hook into the power grid. He thought he had that [in] place before the new Green Energy Act came into force. Now he’s being asked to do it all over again even though Grober has the local OK to plug into the Cambridge-North Dumfries power lines.

Grober is promised 16 cents a kilowatt hour for its power – about double the average selling price today – but can’t sign a contract until the hookup approval arrives. And that seems to be hung up because a power authority’s approval checklist can’t cope with a ready-to-run power plant, Blaine said.

“I said I could send them all the cancelled cheques. The girl (on the phone) told me she didn’t want that, she wanted a financial plan. She wanted to talk to our bank manager go make sure we can afford it.”


Oh, well, at least the USA is not the only country with utterly lunatic bureaucracy... though somehow that's not genuinely reassuring...

Telephone Girl: "Mr. Blaine, you'll have to demonstrate to us that you possess the financial means to build this plant."

Blaine: "But I've already built it. I can send you copies of the cancelled cheques."

Telephone Girl: "I'm sorry sir, that's not good enough. I'll need to see your business plan."

Blaine: "But I've already built it! We're ready to go. I just need your permission to hook up."

Telephone Girl: "Oh, and I'll want to speak to your bank manager."

No one has cornered the market on stupidity.


No one has cornered the market on stupidity.

No, but the political class has set a standard that we can all aspire to

B.C. industry offered $80 million to save energy
Four-year Power Smart program targets conservation

BC Hydro expects to recoup $120 million on an $80-million investment in a new Power Smart program for industrial customers.

Hydro is offering to pay its industrial customers up to 100 per cent of the cost of energy-efficient investments under $1 million, and up to 75 per cent of the cost of projects over $1 million.

Hydro has only a few dozen large industrial customers, but they collectively account for one-third of the electricity consumed each year in British Columbia -- about the same amount as each of the residential and commercial customer groups.


The provincial government recently introduced legislation compelling Hydro to meet 66 per cent of all new growth in electricity demand by 2020 through conservation rather than building or contracting new generation facilities. That's up from the previous target of 50 per cent.

Hydro calculates that the four-year program will save enough electricity to meet annual power needs of 20,000 homes.

See: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/technology/industry+offered+million+save+...

And on a related note...

Saving Energy Means Getting the South on Board
Coal-fueled region uses more energy per capita and pays less for it than the U.S. overall.

The American South is not known for its energy conservation. Coal is plentiful, and electricity is cheap.

Washington, D.C., and 16 Southern states from Delaware to Texas use 44 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States but account for only 36 percent of the country’s population. The South is responsible for 41 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.


Aggressive energy efficiency policies “could set the South on a course toward a more sustainable and prosperous energy future,” the report said. If adopted, it said, the policies would create about 520,000 new “green” jobs by 2030, and the economy would grow by $1 billion — a small but important boost in a region with the highest proportion of poor households in the U.S.

Finally, 20 billion gallons of water could be saved by 2030, or 45 percent of the projected growth in demand for water in the South, because it would not be needed for cooling systems at future new power plants, the report said. By 2030, the water savings are estimated to reach 90 billion gallons.

See: http://www.miller-mccune.com/science-environment/saving-energy-means-get...

Best hopes for smarter energy use.


Paul, you have been busy! Don;t really know why you bother to read the Edmonton Journal though - and the fact that they report so much from elsewhere tells you how much happens in Edmonton!

Powersmart has been getting gradually more aggressive all the time. I would have killed for an offer like that when I was utility mgr at the ski resort.
Good move for the Province too. Every kWh saved is one less to be imported (we are a net importer) and, hopefully, has been saved during peak so then it is a kWh exported south. It ls a great business selling to the Americans, the Maritimes should try it sometime!

There is lots of incentive to find energy saving projects when some else is paying for them!
Don;t expect to see this for residential customers for a while yet.


Hi Paul,

It's a fantastic deal for all parties concerned. There are the avoided costs of acquiring new supplies, of course, but if you can in turn sell that energy south of the border at two or three times the in-province rate, then so much the better.

Nova Scotia Power has been ramping up its DSM efforts over the past couple years in an effort to avoid building new coal-fired generation. In fact, they will be using DSM and renewables to replace existing coal facilities as they reach retirement.

I keep repeating this over and over, but the opportunities to conserve electricity are endless. Last Friday, I audited a tire distribution centre that is illuminated by 400-watt HIDs. The facility is a converted manufacturing space and so light levels are much higher than what is required now and it has numerous skylights. I asked the owner's permission to turn off half the fixtures to see if there would be sufficient light and, sure enough, the results were perfectly acceptable (see below).

Consequently, I'll be replacing these fixtures, one for one, with 4-lamp F32T8 industrials. Fixture wattage will fall from 455-watts to 108 -- a seventy-five per cent reduction. The cost per kW saved is less than $300.00!


Great project - those tyres would have been getting a suntan with all that light!

There is so much easy DSM that it is not funny, it's just that most people/businesses don;t know what to look for or can't be bothered changing anything.

Be interesting to see what the response is to the Powersmart program..

As wind power booms, so do the challenges

Billions of dollars of investment during the past decade have created a wind-power corridor that stretches more than 170 miles along the Columbia in Eastern Washington and Oregon, vaulting the Northwest to the leading edge of national efforts to develop this renewable energy source.

But the fickle, roller-coaster nature of generating electricity from the wind is also placing large new strains on efforts to manage the regional power grid.

Extreme variability in output levels seems to be the biggest issue with wind power. In the Pacific Northwest we can develop pumped storage systems as mentioned in the article. But what are the most affordable types of storage available to wind farms out on the plains? Do we have to build natural gas plants in tandem with wind farms to even things out?

You wouldn't think that pumped storage would be a problem along the Columbia River. This river is has over the years been turned into a series of dammed lakes, a perfect location for wind turbines.

With the right regulatory structure in place, it seems like the Pacific Northwest wouldn't even need pumped storage, as so much of the power already comes from hydro. When the wind blows, cut back on regular hydro output. When the wind slows down, increase the hydro. Why pump water uphill? Just release the water already up there more slowly when the wind is blowing.

Spain recently had a portion of a night when their entire grid was powered by wind. The critical factor is that they have a centralized dispatcher, charged with using as much wind power as possible, and authorized to force everyone else to ramp up and down to balance the wind output. Such a centralized dispatch authority does not match well with the current regulatory direction in the US.

Variability becomes less important as the span of the grid to which the wind turbines are attached becomes greater. A "wind" region can export power when the wind is blowing nicely, and import power generated by other means (or even by wind) from other regions when it's calm. Many regions with relatively small surplus capacity can collectively form a reliable system, so long as they are interconnected sufficiently.

OTOH, such a system is inherently more complex, which brings its own set of failure modes (eg, the cascading failures that created the 2003 blackout in the Northeast).

I knew that wind had reached over 50% but was not aware of the 100% number. Do you have a link?

I'm wrong and you're right. I was thinking of the non-fossil-fuel number. The most recent record for wind appears to have been 54%, although some regions of the country were effectively on 100% wind power (due to insufficient demand, 600 MW of wind capacity was shut down). In addition to wind, there was considerable hydro being produced as operators lowered reservoir levels following heavy rains. Spain also operates several nuclear plants. Coal- and gas-fired plants were operating at minimum levels and providing less than 5% of total generation, about as close to zero as you can get and still leave the fossil-fired plants operational.

The important point is still, I think, that even though Spain has a wholesale electricity market, power dispatch is under central control and electricity from renewable sources is dispatched first. Not only does that maximize the amount of power you get from renewables (and from wind in particular), but knowing that you'll be able to sell essentially all of your output, no matter when it occurs, can make a substantial difference in the business case for a wind farm.

There was a post here last month about German wind power, and how at certain times, the wholesale price has gone negative. of course, the wind producers are getting subsidised feed in tariffs - a great business to be paid to produce something even at times when it has negative value!

In the PNW (which includes BC), you don't need pumped storage, as gravity refills it for us. AT peak times, most turbines are running full. Pump more water back up, and then you will be running outside of peak to use it. The huge %of hydro on the system means wind can be handled easier than many other jurisdictions, but yes, the lack of central controller, who can DEMAND that certain generators start up is a problem.

Without wind, you can easily run non interconnected systems, controllably and reliably. With wind at more than 20%, you then have to have more local transmission lines (to the wind areas), interconnections to other grids, pumped or other storage, AND gas turbines running as peak plants instead of CCGT, which reduces efficiency from 60% to 45%.

So, quite simply, integration of large scale wind involves lots of costs on top of the turbines themselves, which, by and large, the wind industry does not want to pay for. When you add the "balance of system: stuff (storage, interconnection etc) needed to make wind dependable, only then is the true cost apparent.

We could achieve much more, for the same $, by going all out on time of use charging and conservation. If we must go for storage, my bet is that the cheapest is actually storage at the customer site. Cheaper per kW to equip a house with deep cycle batteries and an inverter, than doing large scale storage (unless you have very favourable geography for pumped hydro). That way you are storing energy after transmission (and 10% loss) so you need 10% less storage.

Wind is very expensive for low value (low controllability) power. Not saying it can;t or shouldn;t be done, but that we can;t kid ourselves about the trues costs involved.

The US Pacific Northwest if fortunate to have the hydro that it does, but it is not unlimited. And there are other users of the water: salmon, farmers, transport (Idaho farmers). Certain minimum water levels need to be maintained when fish are migrating. So, pumping water uphill is not always possible, since that is water that should be flowing further down. The supply isn't constant, peaking in late spring early summer. The excess then (if any) is sold to California. Peak usage around here is winter (heating season). Seattle is very lucky to have its own hydro plus some from BPA and a bit of windpower. The suburbs aren't so well off, having higher coal and gas portions of the mix.

Schama: Are the Guillotines Being Sharpened?

... Having weakened faith in government and made considerable progress towards creating a social Darwinist paradise of isolated individuals pitted against each other, the oligarchs may be about to harvest a whirlwind.


Everywhere there's lots of piggies,
living piggy lives...

Pu-leeze. Pigs don't behave that way.

We human beings have created a perfect hell for ourselves. Not that it isn't pleasant to sit on the porch on a spring afternoon and sip a cool one, while protected from the flying insects by chemical weapons. But to scratch below the surface is reveal a darker truth that is well documented on TOD and innumerable places.

The odd thing is that whoever wrote Genesis knew it would turn out this way. How could they be so smart in the Neolithic?

Pretty much every wisdom tradition in every culture has said the same thing forever.

And Genesis was not written in the Neolithic. More like Late Bronze Age.

But your point is taken - until and unless you become bedazzled by them, it's clear that cities and civilization are very dangerous and untenable things.

The Bible is Bronze and Iron age fiction, not Neolithic.

"How could they be so smart in the Neolithic?"

Because they had to be; i.e. they never got lulled into a false sense of security. It's so easy now to imagine that it will always be easy, if you are one of the chosen few, like me who live in the middle class.

Financial crisis threatens Europe's cherished system of social welfare benefits

LONDON (AP) -- Six weeks of vacation a year. Retirement at 60. Thousands of euros for having a baby. A good university education for less than the cost of a laptop.

The system known as the European welfare state was built after World War II as the keystone of a shared prosperity meant to prevent future conflict. Generous lifelong benefits have since become a defining feature of modern Europe.

Now the welfare state -- cherished by many Europeans as an alternative to what they see as dog-eat-dog American capitalism -- is coming under its most serious threat in decades: Europe's sovereign debt crisis.


Maybe they'll take a few of the homeless from america?

In modern times say the last 60 years or so, most people have gotten this idea that life is supposed to be easy, at least in the First world. No wonder people from the third world want to live in the First world countries, life seems to be easier when looking at them on the TV.

100 years ago few people but the very rich retired, unless they had to stop working and live with family, I don't consider that retirement, though I suppose if they did not work it was.

We First world folks are rather spoiled.

In a few years people will wonder about the age of gold that people once lived in 1950-201? and tell stories to their children about the days gone by and how they just went outside and ate off the trees ever fruiting in their yards.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

That plan always seemed too good to be true to me. Guess it may be headed that way.

EPA Officials Weigh Sanctions Against BP’s U.S. Operations

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are considering whether to bar BP from receiving government contracts, a move that would ultimately cost the company billions in revenue and could end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields.

Over the past 10 years, BP has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and been implicated in four separate instances of criminal misconduct that could have prompted this far more serious action. Until now, the company's executives and their lawyers have fended off such a penalty by promising that BP would change its ways.

It won't matter what happens at the UN the Pacific Island Nations are going to be gone in a few years. I can't remember which one I saw a report on, where they have already lost some of their islands to the rise in sea level, and they are having a hard time with well water being invaded be salt water.

But what is more troubling is that the UN and the big nations involved in it, don't seem to think about what happens when ports start to get flooded and coastlines start to erode faster than normal.

It seems like everyone at that confernce wanted to pass the buck to someone else, then when the end of the line got there was no hand left to give it too, so the last person dropped it on the floor.

Everyone is out for themselves it seems at the UN, or has it always been like that?

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

It does, of course, matter to the people living in the islands. They have contributed little to nothing to the problem, yet they are among the first to face death from the consequences. And no country is willing to take in these GW refugees--already in the hundreds of thousands, soon to be in the millions--in any significant numbers.

Sea level rise over long periods of time isn't going to cause any mass displacement of people as they will slowly move inland. It's not as if you wake up one day and global warming has caused Singapore to sink into the ocean.

I'm glad Sterns is turning his attention toward species issues, and I understand that we can't seem to place any value on anything unless it has a price tag on it; but really, I do find something kind of creepy about figuring out down to the penny what monetary value life on earth has.