“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Monday, December 31, 2012

When talk show hosts explain science to students

Through a series of links, I wound up watching a youtube segment in which one Brian Sussman was a guest lecturer at a Political Science Colloquium at UC Berkeley (Political Science 179). I'd never heard of Brian Sussman. He's a talk show host out of San Francisco and either is or used to be a weathercaster (or, maybe, a meteorologist - his bio says that he went to the University of Missouri but doesn't say he graduated or list his field of study). His web site's tag line is "Right Thinking from the Left Coast." Readers should not misunderstand - I'm generally sympathetic to conservative (truly conservative) ideas and no one would accuse me of being a leftist or liberal. And I don't disagree with all that he said in this excerpted video.

But two things stood out to me. First, at about the 0:10 mark, Sussman starts talking about an atmospheric scientist at UC Berkeley, one "Dr. Robert Muller." He's clearly referring to Dr. Richard Muller. This is simply lazy but likely not malicious. But note the comparison that Sussman makes. He discusses Muller's "conversion" from skeptic to believer (Sussman's words) based on completion of a study and, with great hyperbole, states that "the media went wild." He then contrasts that with UC Santa Barbara Emeritus Professor Harold Lewis, who resigned from the American Physical Society over his allegation that money has corrupted the society, resulting in their endorsing the consensus view of climate change. Do you note the difference? Lewis expresses an opinion, Muller cites the results of a study he and his associates and students performed.

The second was rather shocking. Check out around 2:15. Sussman is telling the attendees that the Earth will enter another ice age in about 10,000 years. Why? Because "the Earth's orbit is not circular, it's elliptical. We're gonna get farther and farther away from the Sun, and pretty soon it's going to be parka time..." OK, it's true that one component of one theory of the Earth's quasi-periodic entry into ice ages is the Milankovitch Cycle which is related, in part, to the varying eccentricity of the Earth's orbit. And further, it's true that a deep explanation of this phenomenon would be lost on most of the attendees of Political Science 179, but Sussman's statement doesn't convince me that he understands what he's talking about and, even if he does, this narrative is much more likely to obscure than to clarify.

The video is embedded below.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Energy - what can be done?

I want to spend a few posts looking into what can be done. Unlike many of the excellent blogs to which I try to direct attention in my "blog roll," I'm not going to analyze what resources are available, what technological breakthroughs may be on the horizon, etc. I'm going to look at the amount of energy we (in the United States) can save using currently available technology and by changing currently ingrained habits. I'll first look at ground transportation, then shipping, then air transportation, then savings in the built environment. This last will include insulating, windows, lighting, motors (in industrial facilities), and HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning).

As I wander through this, please bear in mind that I'm assuming evolutionary progress in technology, not revolutionary breakthroughs (fusion, methane clathrates, etc.). In fact, in this series of posts I won't be addressing harvesting and generation at all. In other words, these benchmarks can be achieved in the near to intermediate future without dramatic scientific or societal changes (albeit using my personal definition of what would not constitute a dramatic societal change - yours may be very different).

For transportation, one of the main sources of information will be the "RITA" (Research and Innovative Technology Administration - Bureau of Transportation Statistics) site. Chapter 4 of the linked site is entitled "Transportation, Energy, and the Envionment" and it contains a cornucopia of statistics on the use of transportation fuels in the U.S. I'll start here.

For personal, non-commercial transportation (including work commutes), there are several strategies:

  1. Carpooling
  2. Telecommuting
  3. Using more public transportation (arguably and conditionally  - see here for example)
  4. Driving more efficient vehicles
  5. Driving more slowly
Let's start with commuting to work. Of the listed possibilities, telecommuting offers, basically, a one for one reduction in energy expenditure. If I work from home for a day, that's 62 miles not driven and 1.2 gallons of fuel not burned. Carpooling may come close or even do better. If two people who drive, say, 25 m.p.g. vehicles carpool, the total fuel burn is halved. However, suppose I carpool with someone whose vehicle gets 25 m.p.g. (and who lives next door to me or a close approximation thereof). When each of us drives, 3.7 gallons are burned. If I drive, 1.2 gallons are burned, reducing the fuel burn by 2.5 gallons or about 68%. However, when he or she drives, 2.5 gallons are burned and the reduction is only 1.2 gallons or a bit more than 32%. That's still pretty significant.

Here we find statistics on annual commuting miles, the most recent my google-fu could uncover. The document is based on data derived from the National Household Travel Survey. According to the survey, in 2009 we (in the U.S.) commuted to work for a total distance of ~6.235*10^{11}~ (623.5 billion) miles. And according to this table, the average light vehicle fleet fuel economy that year was 22.4 m.p.g. Thus, we can estimate that we burned ~2.783*10^{10}~ (27.83 billion) gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel in this endeavor. Based on the economy in 2009, I'd expect that figures determined from that year would be conservative with respect to potential fuel savings in absolute terms, but that the percentages would be representative.

For telecommuting, let's hypothesize that 5% of the workforce could move from commuting to telecommuting and could do so for 25% of their workdays (one day per week for three weeks, two days on the fourth). That would be an annual reduction of 1.25% in the commuter miles driven and a reduction of ~3.479*10^{8}~ (347.9 million) gallons of fuel. Since a barrel of oil produces about 19 gallons of gasoline, the resulting savings would be ~1.831*10^{7}~ (18.31 million) barrels - about one days worth at current U.S. rate of consumption. Clearly, this isn't THE answer!

As to carpooling, I'd be surprised if we could coax 20% of the single occupant vehicle commuters into carpools or vanpools. On the other hand, coaxing six people into a vanpool will save something like 75% of the fuel that would otherwise be burned. I'll compromise and estimate using the following assumptions: 20% of the workforce can be incentivized, cajoled, coerced, etc. into carpooling with one other commuter; each drives a vehicle with the average fuel economy of 22.4 m.p.g.; they carpool 60% of the time because, for one reason or another, schedules won't allow it two of the five typical weekly workdays. This would mean that we'd take 10% of the commuting work force out of their own vehicles 60% of the time, thus reducing commuting miles by 6% and saving (using the numbers from the previous paragraph) ~1.670*10^{9}~ (1.67 billion) gallons of fuel distilled from ~8.790*10^{7}~ (87.9 million) barrels of oil annually.

Succeeding in accomplishing both of these (difficult but not impossible, in my opinion) measures would yield an annual savings of ~1.062*10^{8}~ (106.2 million) barrels. Here we find that, in 2009, the U.S. consumed 18.69 million barrels of oil per day, so had we accomplished the steps above that year, we'd have saved sufficient oil for 5 days and 16 hours. Let's call it 1.6%.

Okay, neither of these will get us to the promised land. Let's skip strategy 3 for the time being since the ambiguities surrounding this deserve a post all their own. Strategy 4 holds significant promise. My Lexus CT200h, driven as I drive it, achieves better than 51 m.p.g. Its EPA estimate is 42 m.p.g. combined city and highway. There are several vehicles with EPA estimates in excess of 40 m.p.g., and a few in excess of 50. At their present market penetration, I won't include the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Honda Fit, Coda, etc.

Let's assume that, in a period of a very few years, we can raise (again, through incentives as mentioned above) the average commuter m.p.g. from 22.4 m.p.g. to 35 m.p.g. In such a case, the ~2.783*10^{10}~ gallons of fuel burned would annually would be reduced to ~1.781*10^{10}~ gallons, saving ~1.002*10^{10}~ (call it 10 billion) gallons of fuel, that would otherwise have come from ~5.271*10^{8}~ (527.1 million) barrels of oil. That's enough oil for 28 days and 5 hours at the daily consumption rate from 2009. Let's call it 7.7%.

Finally, what about driving more slowly (and other non-extreme fuel efficient driving methods)? I do about 21% better than the EPA estimate, but let's assume that traffic laws, incentives, etc. can cause the average commuter to exceed EPA estimates by 10%. Calculating as above, I determine that, annually, we'd save ~2.526*10^{9 }~ (2.526 billion) gallons that came from ~1.329*10^{8}~ (132.9 million) barrels of oil. This represents about 1.9% of our consumption.

We can't simply sum these numbers since that would double count some undetermined amount of people who, for example, carpooled, got more efficient vehicles, and drove more efficiently. Cars that aren't on the road due to carpooling can't be driven more efficiently!

So let's arbitrarily take 25% off of the total. We can thus conclude (very roughly indeed) that these (relatively) painless steps could save us something like 590 million barrels of oil per year. This amounts to a bit under 9% of our annual consumption. This is really not so bad, considering that it's only one component of the efficiency possibilities at our disposal.

Update: The 590 million barrels of oil saved by not burning 11.2 billion gallons of gasoline and kerosene would result in NOT emitting about 210 billion pounds or 105 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Hess (née Discovery) Tower

I'm in Houston, TX again, this time for the Total Energy USA conference. I've posted previously regarding the Hess Tower (formerly the Discovery Tower but renamed when Hess Corporation (formerly Amerada Hess - yes, I know...)) leased the entire structure.

In my previous post, I expressed great skepticism regarding the ability of the vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) installed atop the tower to achieve the energy delivery claimed by the media and by the designers. As is my wont, I backed my opinion with some rough calculations. I concluded that they're basically a decorative greenwashing feature.

I don't know what, if any, energy production (really conversion, i.e., kinetic energy of wind to electrical energy - energy is never produced or consumed, it's only converted) has ever been achieved but when I looked at the tower on this visit, the VAWTs were conspicuous by their absence, as can be seen in the photo.

I wondered if they'd been too noisy, had broken down and been removed for repair, or what. Even if they produced no useful quantity of energy, they still looked cool (in my opinion) and removing them would not be particularly cheap or easy. But, as best I can determine from googling, a piece of one of the turbines apparently fell to the street (and possibly damaged a vehicle). Hess Corporation spokesperson Mari Pat Sexton states that the turbines have been "locked down" though, judging by the photo (taken by me two days ago) she must mean "locked down in the basement" or something because it's quite clear that they've been removed from their designed location. There are also, apparently no plans underway to replace the turbines.

I don't think that the loss of energy production will be of significance (I estimated that Hess would avoid a cost of something on the order of $1,500 per year). I'll estimate the amount of money wasted on purchasing the turbines and constructing the supporting structure.

It's been a struggle to find a price for the V3.5 turbines, but I managed to find a number here. Assuming the "rooftop" figure of $30,000, this works out to $8.57/watt of rated capacity. This is actually pretty low for such a small unit and I'd suspect that it's really higher, particularly given the estimates I made in my post about the VAWT in London. But I'll go with it, what the heck. Since 10 were in place, that makes the purchase price (excluding shipping and erection) $300,000.

I don't know if they used cranes or helicopters, but I'll assume the former and that they could erect lift and mount them in two days with four people. The total cost for crane rental and labor might be something like $10,000. Shipping might have been something like $12,000. This is pretty rough as I don't know the weight of the units.

As to the structure, using a cost per square foot of $40 (no tenant improvements, etc.) and an estimated 9,600 ft^2 of "structure" (it's the length of the building but quite thin and I've assumed two "floors" worth of structural construction) my estimate is that the structure cost was about $384,000. Thus, my estimate for the total installed cost is $706,000.

I actually suspect this to be low, particularly with respect to the structure, but it's probably in the "order of magnitude" ballpark. Add another $30,000 for removal, haul away, and disposal and we're pushing hard at three quarters of a million dollars. Pretty expensive for an exercise in greenwashing.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Congratulations Again Democrats | William M. Briggs

At the acknowledged risk of offending my liberal readers (pretty much everyone who reads my blog and who follows me on Twitter and whom I follow - go figure!) and especially mt, who loathes the author of the blog linked below, he captures my feelings pretty well.

No, I don't agree with Dr. (yes, Dr.) Briggs on everything and have incurred his wrath in his comments by saying so, there's little in this post with which I disagree.

Congratulations Again Democrats | William M. Briggs: "poor winners of the far left"

'via Blog this'

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rocket City Rednecks redux

Photo courtesy space.com
In an earlier post, I discussed an episode of a series running on the National Geographic Channel called "Rocket City Rednecks" whose concept is that a bunch of exceptionally intelligent but eccentric Southerners take on projects that "big science" is too slow and ponderous to handle.

In the earlier post I discussed the Rednecks' design of a paddlewheel generator to use the energy in the flow of a river past their anchored boat to power some appliances on the boat. I concluded that, as shown, the system was implausible (though, admittedly, it could have been scaled up in such a way as to actually do what the Rednecks were claiming).

The episode I'd like to discuss here is called "Trailer Power" wherein the Rednecks purport to take Rog's (one of the Rednecks) trailer off grid, in large part due to wishing to avoid both the cost of electricity for cooling and the safety hazards of spraying their roof with water as they were doing as the episode started. As it happens, my intention is to build a house in the desert outside of the Los Angeles basin, and to take my house off grid. Thus, I watched the episode with interest.

They came up with a system consisting of three separate energy sources. One is a "gasifier" (really, as best I can tell, a wood gas generator) in which they intend to burn heat without oxidizing refuse, wood, etc. to generate flammable gasses that are then used as fuel input to an internal combustion engine driven generator. The next is to use ethyl alcohol to power a small internal combustion engine driving an alternator. For this, they did mention that they'd need to build a system for producing the ethanol but, whether or not they actually did this, it was not shown.

The third (intended to supply power for a cooling system that works by misting water onto the roof of Rog's trailer) wound up being powered by an exercise bicycle driving an alternator to charge a car battery which, in turn, powers a pump. The pump sends the water to a barrel reservoir mounted in a tree above the trailer roof, and then gravity drives the water through the hose system laying on the roof to supply the mist. (As an aside, the misting capability of the hose was produced by repeatedly shooting a garden hose with birdshot from a shotgun).

Are any of these systems practical in any way? Without a doubt, a wood gas generator system is capable of providing fuel for an internal combustion engine, FEMA even has a document describing the fabrication of such a system. I'll give this a plausible (though I'm not at all sure the the gasifier they built actually worked).

And, of course, it's true that alcohol can be used as an energy source for an internal combustion engine. The devil is in the details, however - where will the alcohol come from? In the episode as shown, they simply buy it. But electricity is cheaper, on an "effective joule for effective joule" basis, than pure ethanol. And home brew production of biofuel ethanol is fairly problematic, and this was simply left out of the show.

Finally, using leg power to lift water via a system of exercise bicycle -> alternator -> battery -> pump is very inefficient. However, not a lot of water is needed, so let's proceed in my usual fashion of estimation. In a perfect system, the evaporative cooling provided by the mist would by provided by a replacement rate of the water precisely equalling the rate of evaporation. This is the flow that would need to be achieved by the system (though, of course, intermittent operation between setpoints would certainly be the likely mode of operation).

I'm going to propose that the factors involved in the rate of replacement of water needed are: temperature, relative humidity, and roof area. It's much more complex than this of course, since a thorough analysis would incorporate the roof temperature which, in turn, would be a function of ambient temperature, emissivity, insolation, specific heat, etc. For the level of analysis appropriate here, we won't need this depth.

I'm going to use an article from the University of Michigan for an evaporation rate, and use an estimate of 8.5 meters X 17 meters or 144.5 m^2 for the roof area, and some ad hoc estimates for temperature and relative humidity. I will settle on an estimate of 5*10^(-4) grams/(cm^2*sec) or 5*10^(-3) kg/(m^2*sec) for the needed rate of water replacement.

Thus, in an hour, Rog will need to provide energy sufficient to, through the alternator, battery charging system, battery, and pump efficiencies, supply 5*10^(-3)*144.5*3600=2,601 kilograms of water. It looked like the storage barrel was something like 8 meters high, so this amounts to 2600*9.8*8=203,840 joules of work. Doing this in 3600 seconds equates to 56.6 watts.

A human can deliver this for quite a while, but I estimate that the alternator's efficiency might be 80%, the charging system a similar 80%, the battery 95%, and the pump perhaps 50%. Thus, Rog must input 56.6/(.8*.8*.95*.5) watts or 186 watts. Suffice it to say that only periodic activation of the cooling system will be possible if my estimates are in the ballpark (Rog is second from left in the photo above).

And finally, why do I care? I'm quite passionate about energy and sustainability and seeing it trivialized in such a way is troubling to me.

Indicated gas mileage

My Lexus CT200h has an indicator that I reset at each fill up that shows an indicated fuel efficiency (in miles/gallon or m.p.g.). I've noted that it consistently (and, now that I've analyzed it, ALWAYS) reads higher than the mileage that I calculate by dividing miles travelled on the odometer versus gallons logged at the pump during fill up.

I thought that I'd have a look at the data and found that every single one of the 56 fill ups I've performed since acquiring the vehicle exhibit this phenomenon. I ran a linear regression between the calculated and indicated fuel efficiency and found the best fit line to have a calculated mileage about 2.6 m.p.g. below the indicated mileage for each fill up. I noted the same error in my previous vehicles (the ones that had such a display), though I never took the time to plot and analyze the data so I can't say if there were no exceptions as I now can with the Lexus.

I don't have an explanation, it doesn't seem credible that it's intentional in order to mislead the driver - the calculation is simply too easy.  Nor can I come up with a theory that attributes the discrepancy to my driving habits. Further, I'm not sure how the indicated m.p.g. is calculated, though I assume that it uses the odometer and integrates a gasoline flow rate. In any case, it seems to exaggerate my actual fuel economy by about 5%. It's a good thing I keep the actual data!

The chart below shows the data points, a line showing where the points should fall, and the best fit line for where they actually fall. The horizontal axis is indicated m.p.g., the vertical is actual (that is, calculated from miles driven and gallons added) m.p.g. Note that every point falls below the upper line, which represents where they'd fall if the indicated and calculated mileages were equal. The vertical distance between the two lines represents the difference between the best fit line for indicated mileages versus a perfect fit between calculated and indicated mileages. In other words, it represents the error in the indicated m.p.g.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A wind blows in London

As anyone regularly reading my blog knows, my enthusiasm for renewable energy and energy efficiency is deep and wide. I'm in the midst of starting an entire division in my Company devoted to efforts in the energy space. I'm a voracious reader of renewable energy and energy efficiency articles, blogs, and literature. And, of course, my Company is positioned in the materials testing and built environment testing arena. Thus, it was with some interest that I subscribed to a free trade magazine entitled "Building Test News," whose tag line is "The industry publication for the testing, research and certification of building materials and applications" and whose thrust, in the first issue at least, seems to be energy related.

In this, the premier issue, one of the main articles is entitled ""Peak demand" and is about a London project called "One St George Wharf." A large part of the article is devoted to a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) atop the 181 meter, 49 story residential tower. The VAWT was designed by Matilda's Planet, a firm specializing in green energy harvesting, energy efficiency, and clean tech. A two page pdf describing the VAWT (from the company's point of view) can be read here. It's anticipated that the VAWT will power the tower's common areas. Given my skepticism regarding the VAWT installation atop the Hess Tower in Houston, what am I to make of this installation? Let's dig in!

According to the brochure linked above, the turbine is rated at 12 kW (kilowatts - a unit of power and a "rate" of energy production) and is anticipated to provide approximately 35,000 kWh (kilowatt hours - a unit of energy produced) in the course of a year, depending on wind conditions. This is a capacity factor of

This is a pretty high number for a VAWT in an urban environment, but they do say "depending on wind conditions." In Mythbusters style I'll give them a "plausible."

OK, next they give the dimensions of the turbine as 10 meters high by 6 meters in diameter, yielding an intercepted area of 60m^2. Let's take a wind velocity of s m/s^2 and look at a calculation similar to the one I detailed in the "What can the wind do?" post. This will yield an available power in the wind of 36*s^3 watts. Now, the Betz' law  shows that, at the very best efficiency, only 59% of the power in the wind can be turned into electrical energy, yielding an absolute maximum of 0.59*36=21.2*s^3 watts. A typical VAWT might actually achieve 30% but we'll be generous and assume that Dr. Tony Mewburn-Crook, the VAWT's primary designer, came up with innovations that allow 35% of the available energy to be captured. This would yield a power of 0.35*36*s^3 or 12.6*s^3 watts.

The literature states that the turbine is rated at 12 kW, so this implies that it achieves its rated power at a wind speed of

This is 22 m.p.h., not unreasonable at all. Also, it would not be surprising to find winds of such speed on a regular basis at the top of a 181 meter (almost 600') tall building in London. Again, quite plausible.

It's stated that the VAWT will power the "common areas" in this residential structure. In the post about the Hess Tower, linked above, I used 15 kWh/ft^2 per year as a measure of energy use in an office building. I would expect a residential tower to use less light, less frequently and the common areas less still. I'll go with 3 kWh/ft^2 per year. This estimate means that the VAWT could provide the energy to light 35,000 kWh/(3 kWh/ft^2)=11,700 ft^2. I assume that, in a tower, the common areas are first floor lobby, elevator lobbies, some outdoor areas, and a variety of other miscellaneous areas. For 49 stories, 11,700 ft^2 yields an average of 239 ft^2/floor. I suspect the actual number is significantly higher on most floors and much higher on the ground floor. I'm not buying that the VAWT can light the common areas.

Finally, let's look at the economics. The brochure states that "Approx payback under Feed in Tariff based on current prototype electric outputs 20 yrs." Hmm. 20 years*35,000 kWh/yr yields 700,000 kWh. Feed in tariffs (FITs) are monies paid under contract to supply (typically renewably sourced) electricity. As best I can determine from the University of Google (see here for example), the FIT in England for a generator of this size would be about 24p (pence)/kWh. At current exchange rates this is about $0.39. I find this rather shocking, in that I only pay a bit over a dime for electricity at our house. In any case, this seems to imply that the VAWT costs on the order of 700,000 kWh*$0.39/kWh or $273,000.

Now, payback periods are a poor way to calculate the economic desirability of an investment when they exceed a couple of years, since they fail to recognize the time value of money. But suppose that I receive a cash flow of 35,000 kWh*$0.39/kWh or $13,650/year. If I use a rational discount rate of, say, 8%/year and carry it over 10 years (a VERY long period for this type of analysis), the net present value (NPV) of the cash flows is just under $92,000. Even using a ridiculously low cost of capital of 3%, the NPV is about $116,400.

Conclusion: I don't think ludicrous claims are being made for what this turbine will provide in terms of electrical energy, but I don't think it will light the common areas and I certainly think that the reasons for including it in the project are mostly non-economic. I wouldn't call it greenwashing, but these types of projects really amount to a distraction.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

CT200h fuel economy summary

I've been driving the Lexus CT200h for about 14 months. In that time, I've used 474 gallons of unleaded regular grade fuel and driven 24,372 miles, thus realizing an aggregate fuel economy of 51.4 m.p.g. The maximum I've achieved on a tank full is 54.7 m.p.g., and the minimum is 45.7 m.p.g. The standard deviation of my m.p.g. for each tank full (not weighted by distance driven on that tank) is 1.99 m.p.g.

The graph below shows my mileage history. Click on it for a larger view.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Faulty comparison?

I follow (and link to) a fair number of energy related blogs. One of them is Consumer Energy Report, which aggregates posts from a variety of journalists and energy professionals with various specializations. A recent post was entitled "High Cost Prevents Electric Cars From Penetrating the Market." In this post, Andrew Holland discusses his thinking behind the lack of sales of pure electric cars and the financial troubles befalling some of their manufacturers. However, he's also quite complementary of the Chevy Volt, a vehicle I've considered.

But in the comment section, Buddy says

I’ve also never understood, however, how I can run a 5K Honda generator for a minimum of 2 hours ,and occasionally 4 hrs, on a single gallon of gas, that hybrid vehicles cannot achieve the 100 MPG rate easily.

Is this a valid comparison? After all, I certainly can't drive my hybrid  Lexus CT200h for 2, let alone 4 hours on a single gallon of gas. I think looking at Buddy's comment with the Lexus as the representative is quite reasonable. It's the same drive train as the ubiquitous and iconic Prius hybrid and I've gotten 51.38 miles per gallon total in the 14 months or so that I've driven it.

I wrote a simple Wolfram Mathematica program to determine an estimate for the power required at an input speed and an estimate for the mileage to be expected. The program comes gratifyingly close to my actual mileage at the speeds I've checked so I suspect that the power requirement is likely pretty close, the wild card being the engine efficiency.

In any case, let's go on. Buddy's Honda generator has a maximum rated output of 5 kilowatts, but I'm very doubtful that the two hours to which he refers is at full load. Nevertheless, I'll use it anyway because... who knows? And I suspect the two hour figure is at closer to full load while the four hour figure is at a much lesser load.

5 kilowatts is 6.71 horsepower. I calculated that, at 55 m.p.h., my Lexus requires from its Atkinson cycle internal combustion engine (and, where required, the generator and electric motor) about 13.8 horsepower and achieves about 54 m.p.g. If I assume that, at that cruising speed, the Lexus is capable of 28% efficiency, then I'd be burning fuel to release heat energy at the rate of 13.8/.28=46.4 horsepower. This is 34.6 kilowatts or 34,600 joules per second. Now, upon burning, a gallon of gasoline releases about 120,000,000 joules of heat energy so this gallon should last 3,470 seconds or just shy of 58 minutes. A quick check: at 54 m.p.g. and 55 m.p.h., a gallon ought to last an hour!

OK, so we have that I need 13.8 horsepower, a bit over twice what Buddy's generator supplies at 5 kilowatts or 6.7 horsepower. Multiplying my one hour by that 2 figure, I'd think his generator should run for about 2 hours at 5 kilowatts if it was as efficient as my Lexus. I don't think there's any reason for Buddy to be surprised!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away...

In a book entitled "The Positive Philosophy," French philosopher Auguste Comte, writing about the unknowable, said of the stars "we can never learn their internal constitution, nor, in regard to some of them, how heat is absorbed by their atmosphere." Of course, very shortly thereafter, the spectrograph (or spectroscope, spectrometer, or spectrophotometer) was turned to the heavens and the rate at which we learned the inner workings of stars and, soon thereafter, galaxies was truly amazing.

We can now look back about 96% of the way to the beginning of the universe (some 14 billion years ago). How do we look back? It's because light, travelling at 300 million meters per second (186,000 miles per second) takes a finite amount of time to reach us. If we look at something a light year away, we're seeing it as it was a year ago.

Instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope were used to create the image above, now the deepest look into space ever, showing galaxies formed at the very beginning of the star forming phase of the Universe's evolution. You can read about the instruments and methods that allowed us to look at this truly incredible view of our Universe here.

Note: I am currently working at moving my blog from Blogger, with its limitations, to a Wordpress self-hosted site. I'm hoping for a smooth transition with all comments, links, graphics, etc. intact and even search engine continuity. We shall see.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A (kilo)calorie quickie

I've been in "downsizing" mode and have been on a reasonably rigorous workout regimen. As is my wont, I've adopted some technology assists and, in particular, utilize a couple of iPhone apps. One of the ones I use on days when I run is called "Runmeter" by abvio. It uses the GPS in the iPhone to yield distance, time, pace, altitude gain and loss, and others. It exports my path to Google Maps as well. If I select, it will Tweet my run and people can follow me and, when they tweet replies, it will speak them to me. I don't use this option though.

To the point of this post, once weight is entered into the program, it tells calories used (of course, these food calories are really kilocalories) and time. This can be converted to average power used during the run. it's as simple as plugging "471*kilocalories/(2287*seconds) in watts" into Google search bar. Unfortunately, the resulting number, about 860 watts, seems highly implausible if not downright ridiculous. That's over one horsepower for 38 minutes, and I'm no world class athlete. I'm hardly a neighborhood class athlete! Perhaps it's calculating the total, including my base metabolism of about 100 watts. That would make the increment of the running 760 watts or right at one horsepower. Also not possible.

And yet I've read that very strenuous physical exertion can burn on the order of 600 kilocalories/hour. This is just shy of 700 watts. On the other hand, many sources say that world class athletes can produce 1000 watts very briefly and a much smaller number for any significant length of time. For example, the graph at left shows the continuous power production of Masters Men (35-39) Hour Record holder (bicycle) Jayson Austin's rides in 2008 and 2009 (click to enbiggen). In 2009 his average power output over the hour was 302 watts.

I think that there's not much question that there's a problem here someplace! My suspicion is that the athlete figures are "external work" only, i.e., force exerted against the environment times speed. Then, the "food energy burned" figures count that as well as the internal energy burned to produce that work. If this is the case then, if I knew my rate of performing external work, what I'll call "athletic power," then I could use that and the internal metabolic power to calculate my efficiency of energy utilization. In my cycle of rotation of exercise, one of my workouts is a bicycle ride. One can get a "power meter" to measure actual athletic power. I'll post results when I get them.

This actually is pertinent to me as another iPhone app, Lose It, tracks my weight loss progress. In it, I log my food intake (it scans barcodes and has an extensive list of foods plus the ability to create your own foods and recipes) and my exercise calories to predict when I will reach my goal weight. Its evaluation of my exercise is similar to the output of the run meter when I plug in my weight, exercise type, and pace. It also tells me, based on my desired kilocalorie deficit (the difference between my daily "burn" and my intake), how many kilocalories I have left to eat on a given day. If my exercise kilocalories burned are less than the apps indicate, I may be eating more than I should given my desired deficit. On the other hand, the weight loss progress is good so I don't think I'll modify the inputs.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kentucky GOP Outraged Colleges Want Students to Know Things

I'm a huge critic of California and its controlling Democrats' ridiculous leftist slant, pandering to unions, enacting policies that motivate businesses and employers to leave the state, etc. but, on the other hand, there's Kentucky and its brain-dead GOP.

Kentucky GOP Outraged Colleges Want Students to Know Things:

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freedom and justice, evicted from America, may have found a new home « Fabius Maximus

While I don't condone all of Julian Assange's actions, on balance, it's my belief that he's done more good than harm. I completely agree with the author of the blog post linked below and, in particular, that Osama Bin Laden achieved much of what he desired in that my Country is not what it was. I've blogged that US efforts to extradite him and to shut down Wikileaks make me ashamed. 

Freedom and justice, evicted from America, may have found a new home « Fabius Maximus:

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan And His Family To Benefit From The $45 Billion In Subsidies For Big Oil In His Budget | ThinkProgress

Embarrassed to be conservative - take five. It disgusts me that this man represents the best the GOP can do to come up with a principled, intelligent, critically thinking conservative. "It's my wife's, I just don't know a thing about it."

Paul Ryan And His Family To Benefit From The $45 Billion In Subsidies For Big Oil In His Budget | ThinkProgress:

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Paranoid conspiracists, crackpots, and climate change

As anyone who follows the continuing online debate regarding AGW/climate change will know, the number of skeptical (for those who contest the legitimacy of the contentions of the mainstream climatology community) or denier (for those who accept same) sites is huge. In reading some of the posts and comments on such sites, there seems to be a very significant population of participants who entertain bizarre theories of matters extending far beyond climate change. Their acceptance of the notion that those who promote action on reduction of carbon emissions are really tools of the vast conspiracy to subvert democracy, steal assets of hardworking Americans (or Australians) and subject all of us to domination by the one world socialist oppressors is a given. But many go far beyond.

On Steven Goddard's (a pseudonym as nearly as I can determine - his efforts to maintain anonymity are fairly strenuous) Real Science skeptical site (one of the more stridently vituperative sites) we frequently find the comments of one "omanuel" who, along with his disbelief in mainstream climatology, has a disjointed blog whose main theme seems to be that the energy we receive from the sun is not produced as is commonly held and promulgated by the cospiracists, but rather by neutron repulsion. Somehow, this conspiracy to hide the true source of the sun's energy is a part of the overarching conspiracy to dominate the world. Oliver K. Manuel's site is full of references to totalitarianism, David and Goliath, God, etc. Manuel signs as "Former NASA Principal Investigator for Apollo." I guess he must be right then.

Next, we find Harry Dale Huffman, an enthusiastic supporter of the "greenhouse warming fails to explain the surface temperature of Venus, therefore AGW is false" trope. Mr. (NOT Dr.) Huffman describes himself as an "independent research physical scientist, author, and discoverer of the astounding world design behind all the ancient mysteries." He's written several books laying out his discoveries. I haven't dived into the deep end of his theories but I did read his contention that the landmasses of the Earth are laid out (by aliens of some kind) in a regular dodecahedron. He reaches this conclusion by drawing lines that follow arbitrary portions of continental boundaries and measuring the intersections of these lines with latitude parallels. His blog site is entitled "The Earth and Man: Setting the Stage" and the url is  http://theendofthemystery.blogspot.com/.

And Goddard himself has some paranoid conspiracist tendencies. Refer to his post entitled "The Elephant in the Room" where he presents his case that James Holmes, the shooter in Colorado, is part of some greater conspiracy apparently being covered up by the government. The evidence is that a gag order was issued by the judge handling the case. Now, I'm no fan of secrecy (though I'm a HUGE supporter of privacy) but when John B., M.D. is fine with the gag order under the theory that the criminal case won't be tainted, Goddard replies "They are hiding something."

So does finding some of the paranoid/crackpot fringe mean that the skeptical/denier sites are wrong? No, it doesn't but it certainly motivates one to look carefully at the real arguments presented. The fact that such writing attracts these folks certainly should raise warning flags among those who have no baseline of climate knowledge and to whom the arguments presented sound "sciency" enough to be plausible.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

CT200h after a year

I've been driving the Lexus CT200h purchased by my Company for one year. In that time, I've put 20,343 miles on the odometer and put 394.351 gallons of fuel in the vehicle. This has resulted in a year-long average of 50.6 miles/gallon. The EPA estimate for the vehicle is 42 m.p.g. for city and highway combined. I've exceeded that by 20.5%. Had I gotten the 42 m.p.g., I'd have burned 484 gallons, so my driving habits saved about 90 gallons of regular, which would have cost about $350 and released about 1,700 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Had I continued to drive the Land Rover LR3 HSE I had prior to the Lexus, I'd have burned something like 970 gallons of premium gasoline, 576 gallons more. These 576 gallons would have released about 5.5 tons of carbon dioxide. That Land Rover has now been recycled (unfortunately, not by design).

The car is by no means spacious, nor is it a rabbit or a greyhound. That's to be expected and I did expect it. But it does put lie to those who claim that the CAFE standard of 54.5 by the year 2025 would have us all driving battery powered, beer can skinned econoboxes. Were I to employ more exotic techniques of hypermiling, such as pulse and glide, I'm sure that I could achieve that today. Of course, we can't rely on everyone to drive as I do now, and pulse and glide is more work than even I want to devote to driving. But with 12 model years to go, it's pretty hard to believe that this cannot be accomplished.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Just in case anyone is feeling excessive optimism (otherwise known as "irrational exuberance"), this linked pdf from Metis Risk and Feasta, entitled "Trade-Off - Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse" by David Korowicz should provide quick relief.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gravity and storage

My firm was contacted a bit over a year ago by a start-up firm called "Genergy, LLC" with what appears to be an innovative technology for utilizing buoyancy to generate electricity. This post is NOT about that concept. Rather, it's a side trip down a road that originated in a post by the founder of the firm and inventor of the patented technology, Mr. Kurt Grossman, in a thread in a Linkedin group he started called "Gravity Energy." The specific thread discusses pumped hydro storage.

Photo Credit: Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
Pumped hydro storage is one of a very few currently viable methods to store energy at so-called "utility scale" or "grid scale." The idea is to use energy (typically generated by intermittent sources such as wind and solar) to pump water from a lower to an upper reservoir and then to re-capture the potential energy imparted by this process by running the water back down to the lower reservoir through a hydroelectric turbine generator (diagram at left - click to enbiggen).

The technology is, in principal, capable of turning an intermittent source into one suitable for base load power. Of course, you might recognize that hydropower from dams utilizes this principle with mother nature providing the pump via the hydrologic cycle.

In the thread, I mentioned that geography places limits on the wide-scale adoption of pumped hydro storage because of the necessity for two very large reservoirs with a large elevation difference in close proximity. This is something that we don't find naturally around every corner and that, to construct, would entail an extraordinary infrastructure expenditure. Of course, given that one of my Company's main Divisions is dedicated to quality assurance and quality control of infrastructure projects, I'm not at all opposed to such an undertaking!

But I want to "bring this storage method home," so to speak. Were I to install a solar array and utilize pumped hydro in my household, what would this entail? Let me assume that I'd like to have the ability to store sufficient energy to provide electricity to my home for three days. Such a need will most likely arise in winter when I won't need air conditioning - hot summer days usually provide plenty of sunshine and the three days' worth of winter storage should also suffice for summer nights when the sun is down.

As it happens, I've calculated my home's average continuous energy use before, and it's an embarrassingly large 2.1 kilowatts. Therefore, I need to provide 2.1*24*3 or 151.2 kilowatt hours of energy in the system's water tank (that my homeowners association will never let me build no matter how the numbers come out). Energy units are energy units, so I can convert these 151.2 kilowatt hours to 5.443*10^8 or 544.3 million joules. My system is likely to run, optimistically, at about 75% efficiency, so I'll need to store 7.258*10^8 joules. As a side note, this is the total thermal energy available from burning about six gallons of gasoline. To actually use this energy and assuming a Home Depot generator runs at 25% efficiency, I'd need to have 24 gallons available. Keep this number in mind!

Now there are two ways to increase the energy stored in a pumped hydro system: increase the quantity; and increase the height to which it's pumped. A cubic meter of water is 1000 kilograms and raising this 1000 kilograms one meter will add 1000*9.8*1 or 9800 joules. Let's say instead that I could raise it 10 meters. Note that this is 33 feet so that the average height of the water in the tank is above the tops of the roofs in my neighborhood. Now I've added 9.8*10^4 joules. This means I need to raise (7.258*10^8)/(9.8*10^4) or 7406 cubic meters of water. This is just shy of two million gallons (1.96 million) so I'll go with the two million gallon tank. This is the part where I suggest recalling the 24 gallons of gasoline.

Photo credit: San Patricio Municipal Water District
As it happens, we have a swimming pool. It's likely on the small side of average at around 19,000 gallons. So the water in about 100 of those will just do the trick! To the left is a photo of such a tank. Perhaps this explains why those who go "off grid" use batteries to store energy captured by their solar arrays and wind turbines and keep fossil fuel powered generators for those times where the batteries don't suffice.

There's much more on the practicalities (or lack thereof) for utilizing pumped hydro storage on a wide scale to store energy from intermittent sources at one of my favorites sites. It's called "Do the Math" and is published by Dr. Tom Murphy, a professor of physics at UC San Diego.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rentier Debt and the Collapse of Debt-Based Finance | The Energy Collective

A very interesting take on the economic growth/resource constraint/self-poisoning/debt nexus.

Rentier Debt and the Collapse of Debt-Based Finance | The Energy Collective:

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The money value of time

Photo Credit: The Clock Works, Unlimited
Our Company held an event at our San Diego facility last Tuesday, June 5. Quite a few people from our Long Beach headquarters traveled to the event and it's true that alcoholic beverages were served. Thus, we determined that it was in our best interest to hire a so-called "party bus" to transport our people to the event.

My first calculation involved determining how much money we'd save in fuel by avoiding individual drivers (ignoring the possibility of carpooling). It turned out that, with reasonable assumptions, we'd avoid purchasing about $300 worth of gas. The cost of the party bus exceeded this by a factor of three, so it was risk avoidance and a good time at the cost of $600, money well-spent.

On the way down to San Diego, I was talking to one of my two partners in the Company, who suggested that I evaluate my strict 55 m.p.h. self-imposed maximum speed with respect to the value of my time. Of course, I pointed out to Brian that I'd done so on several  occasions. But that was using numbers applicable to my Jeep Grand Cherokee and my Land Rover LR3. Even with those, it was clear that saving fuel by driving 55 m.p.h. was a philosophical rather than an economic decision. I suspect that with my current vehicle, a Lexus CT200h (basically a re-badged and upgraded Prius), the numbers will be worse. Let's see.

Since many of the fuel-saving techniques I used in my previous vehicles are superfluous in the Lexus (it turns the engine off at stop lights, turns it off and uses some of the gravitational potential energy in travelling down hills to charge the battery by using the transmission to turn the electric motor to a generator, etc.) I think I'll get fairly close to my fuel savings over the "typical" driver of my vehicle by simply comparing my fuel economy to the EPA ratings for the vehicle.

Inverting the average rating for the CT200h of 42 m.p.g., the EPA suggests that the typical driver uses (1/42)=0.0238 g.p.m. (gallons per mile). My economy for the duration I've had the car is  50.49 m.p.g., so I use (1/50.49)=0.0198 g.p.m. Thus, for every mile I save 0.00400 gallons, currently worth (at $4.159/gallon) $0.0167.

On the other hand, at 55 m.p.h. it takes me (1/55)=0.0182 hours to travel that mile, whereas at 70 m.p.h. it would take me 0.0143 hours. Thus, it takes me 0.00390 hours longer to drive a mile. Since I'm reluctant to provide numbers on my blog that would enable someone to calculate my salary, I'll determine what salary would equate these numbers. This is simply a matter of dividing $0.0167 by 0.00390, yielding $4.28/hour. Suffice it to say that that severely underestimates my hourly cost.

Now, it's true that there are many inaccuracies in the calculations above. For example, it really should be isolated to highway fuel economy, where the EPA thinks I'll get 40 m.p.g. and I actually get more like 55 m.p.g. Using those numbers, $7.27 would be the wage that represents the break even point. Surprisingly, my wage exceeds this number as well.

The conclusion is, of course, that now more than ever my driving to achieve maximum fuel efficiency derives much more from philosophy (and some would say eccentricity) than economy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Obscenity: I Know It When I See It – The New Inquiry

Another in a shockingly long series of reasons to be embarrassed to be thought of as a conservative, despite the fact that the incident described herein is the very antithesis of real conservatism. And even by the incredibly low moral standards of the modern Republican Party (of which I used to be a member) this is beneath contempt.

Obscenity: I Know It When I See It – The New Inquiry:

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

What would it take for the U.S. to bring Brent crude to $68./bbl? (Newt Gingrich on energy, part 2)

In a previous post I made my case that, in order to bring Newt Gingrich's campaign promise to bring gasoline prices to "$2.50/ gallon or below," the U.S. would need to bring enough crude production to market to bring the price per barrel (for Brent crude; WTI, or West Texas Intermediate is the figure most often quoted on the radio and typically is quite a few dollars lower) of around $68.00. The spot price of Brent crude closed Friday, April 20 at $118.52/bbl (as contrasted with WTI at $103.88/bbl).

Can the U.S., with all regulatory hurdles removed, supply sufficient oil to the market to bring the price down by 42%? And would the extraction be economically viable at a price of $68.00/bbl? Let's take a look.

This will only be from a 30,000 foot level - there are many subtleties involved in U.S. gasoline prices, else how to explain the huge difference in price per gallon between Tulsa, OK and Chicago, IL ($3.459 vs. $4.464)? But crude oil is sold into a worldwide market. If there's a significant discrepancy (with quality taken into account) between the price that willing buyers will pay in disparate geographic regions, arbitrageurs will quickly step in to profit from the difference and equilibrate the prices.

This is one of the purposes of the various Commodities Exchanges (the others are things like the ability to hedge and to speculate) and they provide a very efficient market. The discrepancies above can be attributed to proximity to refiners, proximity to pipelines, specific blending requirements and taxes of states, etc. It wouldn't be possible to buy 20,000 gallons in Tulsa for $69,180, truck them to Chicago and sell them for $89,280 and pocket the $18,800 difference (after paying about $1,300 for the trucking).

In any case, the price of oil is demonstrably very sensitive to small changes in either demand or supply. An economist might say that price elasticity of both supply and demand are, at least in the short term, very low. That is, the graphs that show price on the vertical axis and quantity demanded or supplied on the horizontal axis are close to vertical. In an efficient market, the point where these lines cross sets the so-called "clearing price," that is, where the price is that which causes supply and demand to be equal.

What we want is the price elasticity of supply (PES) so that we can figure what amount of additional supply would cause the price to decrease from $118/bbl to  $68/bbl. This is, of course, a simplistic analysis in that it assumes assumes that "all else is equal." Among other things, this assumes that demand doesn't rise as prices drop (though, since the demand curve is inelastic, this might not be a bad approximation in the short run), that OPEC and non-OPEC suppliers don't react by lowering production (they might not since they count on the foreign exchange income), and other considerations.

PES is defined as % change in Quantity supplied divided by % change in price. Estimates range from 0.1 to 0.01. Using a baseline of 85 million bbl/day and plugging in the numbers represented by a decrease in price from $118/bbl to $68/bbl, it can be calculated that the increase in production needed would be about 3.6 million bbl/day at an elasticity of 0.1. At 0.01, it would be a mere 600 thousand bbl/day.

The second number is highly unlikely to be correct in that it was calculated by using production figures as prices rose at a time when most producers were unable to increase production (regardless of their protestations to the contrary). There are a few more seemingly authoritative sources that use the 0.1 figure and this excellent essay discusses the interaction between supply and demand in recent history and suggests (through implication) that the interaction leads to an effective doubling of elasticity.

In any event, the sharp eyed will have noticed that the implication here is that a price decrease would result in an increase in quantity supplied. This is, of course, not what's implied in a discussion of supply elasticity. But the supply elasticity is so close to vertical that what we're really looking for is the rightward shift of the quantity supplied curve that, in combination with the quantity demanded curve, would clear the market at $68/bbl. I simply used the negative of the PES in the calculation.

This very informal (and, no doubt, flawed) analysis indicates that an increase in world production on the order of between 3 and 4 million bbl/day, ceteris parabus, could cause a decrease in crude prices sufficient to drive the cost of gasoline to $2.50/gallon or less.

Next I'll discuss whether the U.S. technically recoverable reserves and the available equipment would allow such an increase.

More of the same, but worse

On Intrade.com, as far as I know the best and most extensively used prediction market, it's estimated that President Obama's chance of being re-elected in November, 2012 are at about 60% and the chances of the Republican Party adding control of the Senate to its existing control of the House of Representatives are about 65%.

Say what you will about prediction markets' accuracy in comparison to other forms of prognostication, they've typically exhibited accuracy at least as good as poll results (though the markets are heavily influenced by poll results) and it's awfully easy to get moment by moment snapshots as trading takes place.

Of course, the voting results for President and for the Senate are far from independent but, if they were and if the chances above could actually be treated as probabilities rather than betting odds (see below*) then there's about a 40% likelihood that we'll have a Democratic President and that both houses of Congress will have Republican majorities.

This is not atypical of the second term of a President, but with the level of toxicity exhibited by present-day political discourse and a significant degree of public discontent (cf. the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party Movement) this seems to me to be a recipe for increasing levels of public disorder and chaos.

And, on a subject near and dear to my heart and that which is the foundational area of concentration of this blog, this is not a political environment in which the energy Sword of Damocles hanging over all of our heads will be able to be blunted.

*The salespeople in my Company must enter a "probability of win" when they log a proposal into our CRM database. We all know what we mean by this but, logically, it makes no sense. It's a one-time event and the probability is either 0 or 1, and we'll know what it was when the results are in. It's not as if we can say "in 100 similar opportunities that we've pursued in precisely this way in precisely similar environments we have won 60 of them." In order to reconcile this to the logical framework within which my thought processes operate, when a salesperson enters 60%, I interpret this to mean that he or she would take either side of a 3 to 2 bet where the bettor against us was offerred 3 units if we fail, and we win 2 units if we succeed.

Image credit: Felix Auvray via allposters.com

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Newt Gingrich on energy, part 1

In a half-hour long video (also embedded below for your viewing pleasure) Newt Gingrich outlines his energy policy that, according to him, will result in gasoline prices for US consumers of "$2.50/gallon or below."

Can Gingrich make this happen? I'm talking about technically and economically, never mind politically. His fundamental premise is (unsurprisingly) that burdensome regulations stifle production of otherwise ample fossil fuel (oil, in particular) resources on public lands. He contrasts production from the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota, which takes place on private lands and is, in fact, thriving to the decreasing production on public lands. Gingrich states that the benefits of deregulating oil exploration and extraction on public lands would reduce dependence on foreign oil imports, dramatically reduce our balance of trade deficit, and reduce our budget deficit (via collection of royalties for production on public lands).

It's certainly true that increased production, should it be possible, would have those salutary effects but the key questions are: what reserves are technically recoverable?; what reserves are economically recoverable?; what production rates can be achieved? and; with this information, what is the likelihood of such production reducing the average price per gallon of gasoline to the level claimed by Gingrich?

I'd like to go backwards first and determine an estimate for what price of crude might lead to $2.50/gallon gasoline and then determine what sort of U.S. crude production might lead to such a price. I'll use the methodology (and some of the numbers) from Geoffrey Styles' very interesting and informative Energy Outlook site. Starting at $2.50/gallon, we take out $0.488 for federal and state taxes and $0.15 for retailer/distributor margin. This leaves $1.86 or (at 42 gallons/barrel) about $78 per bbl for pre-tax wholesale. Now we need to correct for the difference in gasoline vs. light crude prices (since there are many other products that come out of a barrel of crude). I'll use Skyles' figure of $9.67/bbl for this number and we're looking for crude at about a bit under $70/bbl as our magic number.

Let's check and see if this is in the ballpark. I'll again defer to Skyles as to which crude price follows gasoline most closely and go with Brent Crude. At this page from the Energy Information Agency we can look at monthly historical spot prices for Brent crude, and this page gives us monthly U.S. regular conventional gasoline prices. I downloaded the relevant spreadsheets and plotted Brent crude as a function of gasoline price. The "visual" impression is of a very good linear correlation. Excel gives Brent=36.76*gasoline-23.768 with an R^2 of 0.9717. Plugging in $2.50/gallon yields a predicted Brent price of $68.13. Not bad, I think we're on to something here.

Thus, Gingrich's plan must produce a sufficient supply (accumulated production minus consumption) sufficient to drive Brent crude down to around $68/bbl. In my next post, we'll look at what level of production in the U.S. might lead to such a price and whether it's reasonable to expect that any policies Gingrich might undertake could lead to such a rate of production. Finally, we'll look at whether the economics justify the expense of production from any technically recoverable reserves that could potentially lead to such rates.