May 13, 2022

Starlink To Go

Stress tested in Ukraine and now available to you.

Capture

Russians have targeted Ukrainian electricity and communication infrastructure. In some areas there may not be any utility poles left standing and underground conduits may have been bombed to oblivion. Starlink has been an important tool for these brave people to coordinate their resistance to Putin’s brutal invasion. Satellite communication doesn’t require any middle-mile infrastructure. Starlink provides low-latency high-bandwidth communication wherever there is 110/220 volt electricity available. Any vehicle with an inverter can supply this power as can a portable generator. Russia has endorsed Starlink’s effectiveness by  trying hard to hack it; so far, they haven’t succeeded.

Much more mundanely, a year ago I took a long RV trip and struggled with uneven WiFi in campgrounds and data caps on my Verizon phone. I saw camper setting up their portable Dish Network and DirectTV dishes and dreamed of the day when I’d be able to put my Starlink dish on a couple of cinder blocks next to the RV.

That day has come!

For an extra $25/month, traveling Starlink subscribers are now able to transport their dishes to new locations which currently have service. It can go to a campground. It can go to a camp or event site; but it must have 110/220 volt power available - same as at home. It must also have a clear view of the northern sky above about 25 degrees of elevation in the northern hemisphere or the southern sky in the southern hemisphere. You can turn roaming on or off from the Starlink website so you only have to pay the premium for the months you’re on the move.

The FAQs on https://support.starlink.com/ explain further limitations;

  • Best Effort Service: Portability service is provided on a best effort basis. Stated speeds and uninterrupted use of services are not guaranteed. Starlink prioritizes network resources for users at their registered service address. When you bring your Starlink to a new location, this prioritization may result in degraded service, particularly at times of peak usage or network congestion.
  • “International Travel: Starlink can only be used within the same continent as the registered Service Address. If you use Starlink in a foreign country for more than two months, you will be required to move your registered service address to your new location or purchase an additional Starlink to maintain service.
  • “No In-Motion Use:  We do not support Starlink use in motion at this time. Using the Starlink Kit in motion will void the limited warranty of your Kit. While our teams are actively working to make it possible to use Starlink on moving vehicles (e.g., automobiles, RVs, boats), Starlink is not yet configured to be safely used in this way.”

The Starlink service map is essential for planning travel. It shows, for example, that all the lower 48 states in the US have service. Alaska does not, and only part of Hawaii does. Southern Canada does and Northern Canada doesn’t. Mexico does but not Honduras.

The map also shows areas where there is a backlog for new service. In these areas you would expect to have degraded service during peak times because there are already as many permanent users there as Starlink can currently support.

Happy travels.

See also: https://blog.tomevslin.com/starlink/

May 05, 2022

Pandemic Lesson #1: “The Science” Must Always be Challenged

But that doesn’t mean all challenges are right.

In the beginning, scientists in Wuhan, the only scientists who had direct access to Covid data at the time, said that the disease couldn’t spread from person to person; it only spread when infected food was eaten. The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed that “science”. It was wrong.

Once China and WHO changed their view and conceded that infection could spread from person to person, they also said that it spread mainly on surfaces. We had a mini-epidemic of handwashing and surface cleaning. Mary and I still have most of a big bottle of sanitizer left. We took our mail out of the mailbox with rubber gloves and quarantined it three days before opening. Dr. Fauci and the US CDC did not recommend masking at that time. Still to be determined is whether they didn’t recommend masking because they didn’t want the public to gobble up the limited supply of surgical masks or because they truly didn’t believe that airborne infection was significant.

An interesting side note is that epidemiologists had not kept up with the latest physics about tiny droplets. The physics embedded in their literature only acknowledged larger droplets, which are more likely to alight and persist on surfaces, and ignored tiny droplets which stay in the air – it’s those tiny droplets that the virus travels on. The “science” which emphasized infected surfaces was wrong. It’s a good thing it was challenged. It’s a good thing that we learned that small weave masks are effective. What if no one had been allowed to question “the science”?

Dr. Fauci and other experts said it would take at least two years to develop an effective vaccine. They were being optimistic based on experience up until then. Fortunately, they were wrong.

When the vaccines first got emergency approval, they were billed as being 85-95% effective. Most people, including me, thought that meant getting vaccinated would reduce the chance of getting infected by 85% to 95% and could well snuff out the disease like what has almost happened with polio and smallpox. Those estimates were the best available; but they were wrong, especially as the virus mutated. I urged vaccine requirements for air travel and some professions like medicine thinking that vaccinated people were largely not spreaders. I was wrong. The “science” was wrong. Experience has shown the vaccines effective at preventing hospitalization and death – a good thing; but not nearly as effective at preventing spread. For the least vulnerable, it is beginning to appear that mild infection is more effective than a shot at preventing hospitalization. The world changes and “the science” changes as well.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that we learn more as time goes on or that old truths become invalid as the world changes. What is wrong is to think that “the science” should go without challenge; that would be catastrophic. What is wrong is to think that any legion of fact-checkers can decide what we ought to read; that is also catastrophic. Science flourishes on challenge. New discoveries always tread on old truths. Progress depends on challenge – even if most challengers are wrong.

April 27, 2022

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

Both problems can be solved while reducing net greenhouse gas emissions.

We must have both energy independence and a responsible climate policy. The good news is that we can have both without imposing soaring energy prices on those who can least afford them. An “all of the above” energy policy, better infrastructure, and permitting reform will enable a transition to zero net greenhouse gas emissions, no dependence on murderous regimes for energy or critical energy components, and lower energy prices.

The Problems

Although climate change has always been part of human history, it is likely that, if the concentration of greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere continues to grow significantly, climate will change faster than we’re prepared to deal with new precipitation patterns, changed growing zones, and rising sea levels.

However, the cost of Europe’s premature abandonment of its own gas and oil resources and early shutdown of nuclear power was clear when energy costs on the continent skyrocketed even before the Ukraine War. Now that economic problem has become a literal matter of life and death with most European countries unable to do without the imports which finance Putin’s war and nearly helpless against his threats to cut off their energy supplies.

Although the US is fortunate to be a net exporter of oil and gas, we have dangerous energy dependencies of our own. Critical metals for electric cars, batteries, and other components of a greener economy are mostly imported, many from hostile places. Almost all our solar panels are made in China. We import uranium from Russia.

The electric grid in the US is ancient and obsolete. It is not dependable enough for an economy transitioning to electrically delivered energy. It is not engineered to be fail-safe. It is in the wrong places to deliver renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed. It is starting deadly fires. Similarly, some gas pipelines are old and leaky; and we don’t have the pipeline capacity to move natural gas from where it is in abundance to where it is needed to displace coal and oil. The problem is so acute that the New England had to burn carbon-intensive oil and even more polluting coal to generate enough electricity to keep the lights on this past winter. A few years ago Russian tankers were offloading Siberian natural gas near Boston while US gas just 300 miles away was stranded for lack of pipelines,

Like most of Europe, the US has shut down carbon-free nuclear plants whose lives could have been extended. We have not set up a permanent depository for nuclear waste. Vermont used to be an exporter of carbon-free electricity; now, thanks to the shutdown of Vermont Yankee. Vermont imports electricity generated from fossil fuel in neighboring states.

It takes forever to build anything in the US. Major projects like new power and pipelines, railroads, power plants, wind farms, and solar installations often take as long as twenty years. Permitting requirements are overly detailed; endless injunctions often string out for decades after permits gave been issues. When legal appeals are exhausted, illegal protests raise costs and delay projects even further. Commercial rivals of projects are very skilled in rallying “environmental” opposition to almost anything – including renewable energy projects - and misusing the concerns of those who’d rather have a project built in someone else’s backyard.

The Good News

As late as 2007, more than half of US oil was imported. Now, thanks to new technology, we are net exporters of oil and gas. We cannot be blackmailed by Russia or Saudi Arabia. We are even able to provide some supply to our European allies. Even better, because the price of natural gas in the US is a fraction of what it was fifteen years ago, it is largely displacing coal. Natural gas emits only half the CO2 that coal does per megawatt of electricity generated and none of the other deadly pollutants that come from coal. The transition from coal to natural gas was driven by economics, not government mandates. As a result, the price of electricity in most of the US has declined in absolute dollars as coal was phased out and the US has more than met the emission reduction targets assigned to it in the Kyoto Treaty (which we never signed).

The cost of solar panels has come down 90% in the last decade and their efficiency has improved. Wind turbines have also become less expensive. Renewables are providing significant amounts of electricity. The pairing of renewable but intermittent sources like wind and solar with on-demand natural gas generation has made it practical to deploy much more renewable energy than we would have been able to otherwise.

The cost and performance of batteries has improved to the point where they are practical, in many cases, for electric cars and even trucks. Electric cars are in so much demand that dealers can’t keep them in stock and incentives to buyers are not necessary. There is danger that use of electric cars will outpace the growth of renewable electricity to charge them and the ability of the electrical grid to deliver that energy reliably.

Small, even safer nuclear power plants have been developed and are being deployed in other parts of the world. The US has no problem building nuclear power plants safe enough to power submarines and surface ships in wartime conditions.

The latest UN climate report says that warming will stop almost immediately when net zero emissions have been achieved. The old science was that warming would continue for at least decades and possibly centuries after the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere stabilized. The implication of this change is that we do have time to take reasonable sustainable actions to reduce net emissions and don’t need to make an emergency economic and social crash landing.

So What Do We Do?

  1. “all of the above” energy sourcing to drive down the cost of electricity while increasing the supply. Reduced electric rates are the best possible incentive for people and businesses to electrify. Continue the deployment of renewables where they are cost justified – which they are in many cases given new technology. Build small nuclear plants as part of a new regionalized grid. Keep existing nukes open until replaced by other carbon-free sources. Open the Yucca nuclear waste depository. Enable responsible production of natural gas; free market economics will result in that gas replacing the remaining use of coal and diesel fuel to generate electricity.
  2. Build the energy infrastructure back better.

    The electric grid must be much more decentralized and reliable to support more dependence on electricity and deployment of renewables and small-scale nuclear. As much of the grid as possible should be underground for reliability and reduced maintenance costs. Burying utilities including electricity and fiber for broadband should be considered as part of every road repair or building project. The US could lead the world by transitioning to the first direct current grid since Thomas Edison’s days with an enormous saving in transmission and conversion energy loss. A side benefit is losing all the inverters and other bumps in the line we use for converting alternating current to the direct current needed not only by electronics and battery charging but also by more and more appliance motors.

    Energy infrastructure includes oil and gas pipelines. Gas pipelines are needed now so that the abundant gas in the Pennsylvania can get to New England and other parts of the nation which need it and reduce both costs and emissions. These pipelines will eventually be used to transport green hydrogen so are not a short-term investment. Oil pipelines, especially those which have already been permitted, are needed so that US and Canadian oil can flow more readily (cheaply) to domestic markets and especially for shipment to world markets which we don’t want to have dependent on Russian supply.

    The well-studied Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste has been stalled for decades by politics. Time to open it.

  3. Assure that we mine our own ample supply of uranium and the rare earths like chrome, nickel, cadmium, and lithium needed to build a greener economy now, not after 20 years of appeals and protests.
  4. Continue building pilot projects for green hydrogen, geothermal, and various kinds of energy storage as well as continued research into new battery architectures, nuclear fusion, and mechanical carbon sequestration.
  5. Continue and expand the forestry effort which is already funded by the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the President signed. Trees take an enormous amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere (natural carbon sequestration) and store it as a useful carbon supplement in the ground. Taking a pound of greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere obviously has the same effect as avoiding a pound of emissions. Improved forestry worldwide is probably both the most effective and cheapest alternative we have for reducing greenhouse gas.
  6. Implement permitting reform and stop delays to approved projects! We have more time than we thought we had to reduce emissions, but we don’t have forever. There is a huge urgency to reducing the world’s dependence on energy from ill-intentioned suppliers and assuring our own energy independence. Getting to yay or nay on a project should always be possible for a well-prepared applicant in two years, preferably one. Once a permit has been duly granted, anyone who seeks injunctive delay of the project must be required to post bond for the full cost of the delay they are seeking. If they win the appeal, they get their money back; if not, it is forfeit. Illegal actions and vandalism to stop an approved project must simply not be tolerated no matter how many Hollywood celebrities show up in support. Protecting legal projects is one of the many things for which we need a well-financed and well-trained police force.

New powerlines, pipelines, wind and solar facilities, nuclear plants and mines for rare earth need to built and operable in the next few years. We can do this. We can reduce emissions, maintain and improve our own energy independence, and end the world’s dependence on Russian and middle eastern energy.

We must and can do these things in the next few years – and can make energy cleaner and more affordable in the process!

See also:

Fracking Saved Our Freedom

Subsidizing Electric Cars Might Even Hurt the Environment

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

April 11, 2022

Special One-Time Offer to Save the Planet Extended 11 Years But You Must Act Now!

So says Prof. Michael Mann, inventor of the famous climate hockey stick.

On the scale of climate change alarmist (10) to climate change denier (0), Michael Mann is about a 9.5. His diagram of the temperature hockey stick with its inflection point when industrial emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) started to rise has been almost as persuasive as Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth in raising five alarms about the dangers of global warming. So, when Mann says that he and the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have decided that the danger is not nearly as immediate as we (and he and they) thought, we must pay attention.

I’m going to include his entire blog post below (it is licensed for such redistribution) so that you can draw your own conclusions. My thoughts, not all positive, follow his post.

The Best Climate Science You’ve Never Heard Of

By Michael E. Mann on Saturday, February 26, 2022 - 09:43

By Mark Hertsgaard, Saleemul Huq and Michael E. Mann

Picture1

(note: this is the original full version of our recent Washington Post op-ed, based on a recent press briefing involving the authors, sponsored by Scientific American and Covering Climate Now)

One of the biggest obstacles to avoiding global climate breakdown is that so many people think there’s nothing we can do about it.  

They point out that record-breaking heat waves, fires, and storms are already devastating communities and economies throughout the world.  And they’ve long been told that temperatures will keep rising for decades to come, no matter how many solar panels replace oil derricks or how many meat-eaters go vegetarian.  No wonder they think we’re doomed.

But climate science actually doesn’t say this.  On the contrary, the best climate science you’ve probably never heard of suggests that humanity can still limit the damage to a fraction of the worst projections if—and, we admit, this is a big if—governments, businesses, and all of us take strong action starting now.

The science we’re referencing is included in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, issued last August.  But first, some context. 

For many years, the scientific rule of thumb was that a sizable amount of temperature rise was indeed locked into the earth’s climate system.  Scientists believed—and told policymakers and journalists, who told the public—that even if humanity hypothetically halted all heat trapping emissions overnight, carbon dioxide’s long lifetime in the atmosphere combined with the sluggish thermal properties of the oceans would nevertheless keep global surface temperatures rising for 30 to 40 more years.  Since shifting to a zero-carbon global economy would take at least a decade or two, temperatures were bound to keep rising for at least another half century.

But guided by subsequent research, scientists dramatically revised that lag time estimate down to as little as 3 to 5 years. The updated finding is included in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group I, that made headlines last August.  Indeed, it underlies the widely-now used concept of a “carbon budget”. It allows us to specify (with some uncertainty range) the maximum amount of carbon that we can still burn if we are to keep global surface warming below the critical level of 1.5C (3F).

Most importantly, it tells us that if humanity slashes emissions to zero, global temperatures will stop rising almost immediately.

To its credit, Scientific American did discuss this updated science in a short article last October. But why isn’t this reason for cautious optimism more widely known?

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Two of the co-authors of this article are climate scientists, while the other is a veteran journalist.We can collectively attest that scientists aren’t always the best natural communicators, journalists and scientists typically don’t speak the same language, and much gets lost in translation. Add to that the concerted headwind of a fossil fuel industry-funded disinformation campaign, and you have the makings of a substantial breakdown in communication.

That’s a shame, because this revised timeline implies a paradigm shift in how humanity can respond the to the climate emergency.  The implications fall into three categories—the three P’s of psychology, politics, and policies.

Psychology is arguably the most important, for it makes possible the rest.  Knowing that global temperature rise can be stopped almost immediately means that humanity is not doomed after all.  We can still save our civilization, at least most of it, if we take rapid, forceful action.  This knowledge can banish the sense of inevitability that paralyzes people and instead inspire them towards greater resolve and activity.

This psychological shift can in turn transform the politics of climate change, for it can entice more people to join the fight—or to stay in the fight rather than succumbing to despair.  

Newcomers to climate action might begin by eating less meat or ditching the gas-guzzler for an electric vehicle. Another key step, the climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe urges, is for people simply to talk more about climate change with family, friends, and co-workers—because you can’t solve a problem if you don’t even talk about it. 

Most important, though, politics must be committed.  “Many individuals are doing what they can,” the naturalist David Attenborough has said.  “But real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.”

That will only happen if many more people vote, march, and otherwise pressure governments and corporations to favor climate protection over climate destruction.  For example, the world spent an estimated $5.9 trillion in 2020 subsidizing fossil fuels, the main driver of global warming.  US taxpayers alone subsidize oil and gas drilling by $660 billion a year.  Making fossil fuels artificially cheaper in this way tilts the economic playing field so lopsidedly that it hardly matters how many individuals decide to take the train rather than fly. 

Astonishingly, even people who consider themselves environmentalists do not always vote.  In the US, environmentalists could decide the crucial 2022 mid-term elections in eight swing states if they just bothered to vote, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Environmental Voter Project.  Almost one million people who did vote in the 2020 general election have never voted in a mid-term, the project found.

Finally, changing the politics of climate change can change the policies used to fight it.  Measures that once seemed politically impossible—such as the Green New Deal or president Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation—can suddenly become feasible as some lawmakers get voted out and others get voted in, and even recalcitrant lawmakers still in power begin to calculate the costs of blocking action differently. 

Where all this matters most is in highly climate vulnerable communities, especially in the global South.  Countless people in these communities have been suffering climate disasters for decades already, because their communities tend to be more exposed to climate impacts and have less financial capacity to protect themselves.  For these people, limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is not a scientific abstraction but rather “a matter of life and death,” Mohammed Nasheed, the former president of The Maldives said at the COP26 UN climate summit last November.

The fact that 30 more years of rising temperatures is not necessarily locked in is tremendously empowering, but it is not a silver bullet.  Some impacts are already irreversible, especially ice sheet melting and sea level rise.  The IPCC’s next report, due for release later this month, will address how societies can adapt to these and other such profound challenges.

Nevertheless, the latest climate science suggests that COP26’s goal of keeping 1.5C alive remains within reach—if humanity phases out fossil fuels rapidly and slashes emissions in half by 2030.  If we do that, we might still preserve a livable planet for all who deserve it, which is everyone.

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Follow Michael E. Mann on Twitter or Facebook to be notified of new blog posts, or subscribe by RSS


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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OK, this is Tom again.

It certainly is good news that “the science” now says we have time to act reasonably and responsibly and don’t have to do a lot of panicky, expensive, and often ineffectual things like ethanol mandates, raising the price of home heating oil in a year when it’s already doubled, or subsidizing electric cars that people will buy anyway. The climate is now not expected to turn into an irreversible inferno.

What’s missing from this post is an explanation of why Mann and the IPCC have made such a huge change in assumptions. I’m not surprised to see the scientific consensus change; it’s good that Mann is trying to publicly correct the mistake; but it’s disappointing not to understand what the actual mistake was. How do we know how much faith to put in the new prediction since it’s made with the same assuredness as the old one? How do we know if all the implications of whatever incorrect assumption was made have been thought through?  How do we know that the assumption wasn’t changed just because people were saying “oh, too late. Sorry.” Mann spends several paragraphs explaining how the new assumption changes “the three P’s of psychology, politics, and policies”; I’d rather he explained why the new assumptions are believed to be right, not why they’re convenient.

I’m also not convinced by his claim that the reason this good news has not gotten more currency is because of disinformation by the fossil fuel industry. I buy that the fossil fuel industry has pushed back against or even suppressed claims that fossil fuel use is dangerous to the environment; I can’t see any motive for the industry suppressing any news which deemphasizes the climate emergency.

Nevertheless, if correct, this change in assumptions is very good news. The current plight of Europe dependent on Russian fuels and Ukraine being decimated by weapons paid for by the users of Russian fuels shows how counterproductive and dangerous it is to act precipitously (or need to appear to act precipitously) because there is allegedly no time to implement long term solutions. My optimistic take is that we’re at the beginning of forging a practical and actionable consensus on climate and energy.

April 04, 2022

Where is Starlink Available Now? Finally An Official Map

Good news for Vermont.

Up until now, the only way to find out whether Starlink is immediately available where you want to use it was to try ordering and see whether the website forced you to backorder status. Doing that every day was not practical. Now there is an official map from Starlink – presumably updated frequently – which gives you a current view of availability worldwide: https://www.starlink.com/map. Light green means available for immediate order; dark green means backorder only.

Vtstarlink

Note the good news for Vermont above. Availability everywhere except our northern and southern borders. There’s no telling from this map how much availability there is in each one of the hexagons. However, I suspect (but this is a guess) that availability is and will remain good. Here’s why: from our PoV on the ground the satellites rise somewhere southwest to northwest of us and travel in arcs setting northeast to southeast. Serving the area to the southwest of Vermont takes lots of satellites because there are lots of people. However, once these satellites are usable here, they are no longer usable very far west of us; they’re all ours. We have low population density in the areas where fiber and cable are not available. Every Vermonter that signs up is incremental revenue for Starlink from the satellites in an under-utilized part of their orbit. Lucky us.

All the Starlink news is not good. Starlink prices have gone up so that the equipment in Vermont now costs about $700 with tax and shipping and the monthly cost is now $110.

Starlink quality is not as good as fiber. However, after a year and a half, I still use it for everything including teleconferencing. Since we now also have fiber, I use Starlink so I can report on its quality using the zoomready shareware I wrote and decide whether I should keep recommending it to people who can’t get a fiber connection.

I do recommend Starlink if you are in an area where you can get it, can afford it, have a good enough view of the sky, and can’t get fiber.

See also:

How to Find Out Free If Starlink Will Work at Your House

Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location

Vermont Starlink FAQs

Starlink’s zoomready Rating Is Going Down

March 29, 2022

Live this morning: talking about inane actions by VT legislature

This morning (March 29) at 11AM ET I'll be on WDEV (96.1 FM, 550 AM) in VT with Bill Sayre discussing the inane actions by the Vermony legislature to push already sky high home heating costs even higher and to subsidize electric cars even though they are sold out. Streaming at https://wdevradio.com/stream/. It's a callin so you can question and opine as well.

Apparently the legislature hasn't noticed that their goal of raising fossil fuel prices have already been over-achieved by inflation and war and that electric cars are selling above sticker price when they can be had at all.

See also:

Dear Vermont Legislature

Subsidizing Electric Cars Might Even Hurt the Environment

 

March 28, 2022

Fracking Saved Our Freedom

And it’s good for the environment, too.

How would we respond to Putin if we in the US still imported 62% of our oil as we did in 2007? Where would Europe be if we were competing with them for scarce oil and natural gas rather than providing some of our surplus to reduce their dependency on Russia? If we had left it to Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran to be the world’s only super petro-powers, we wouldn’t be able to protect ourselves from domination by them, let alone help Ukraine.

How did we cure our dangerous dependency on imported oil and natural gas?

Chart

Back in 1973 when we imported only 42% of the oil we consumed, our economy was almost brought to a standstill by the Arab Oil Embargo. Every president since pledged to reduce our imports. Instead, imports and prices rose relentlessly. In 2008 oil prices were higher than they are now (allowing for inflation) and natural gas prices five times as high in much of the country. 62% of our oil products were imported.  Natural gas was mainly domestic but production was declining and import terminals were being built for liquified natural gas (LNG). Even in 2011, the best forecast was that net oil imports would stabilize at 60% of consumption and President Obama was calling for reducing that by one third (but didn’t say how).

Around 2008 hydraulic fracturing (yes, “fracking”) and horizontal drilling were successfully deployed, first to recover natural gas from fields formerly thought to be depleted and then to recover oil as well. The price of natural gas plummeted and has never recovered. What had first been planned as terminals to import natural gas became, instead, export terminals. By 2020 we were a net exporter of oil and oil products. BTW, Gazprom in Russia was against our fracking from the first.

[We do still import some oil. Primarily from Canada and Mexico, because some of their wells are nearer our markets than theirs and we export to them in other places for the opposite reason. We also import unnecessarily (even from Russia until two weeks ago) because the protectionist Jones Act prevents us from delivering our own oil to ourselves on foreign tankers and we don’t have tankers of our own. But we still export more than we import.]

If it weren’t for fracking (lousy word but we should get used to saying it and keep doing it) and horizontal drilling, we’d be begging bad guys for more gas and oil and in no position to confront them. We would also not have enjoyed the prosperity we had in the ten years leading up to the pandemic. That prosperity was to a great degree fueled by not having to send money abroad for oil and by increased competitiveness of American factories once we had cheaper energy available than the rest of the world.

Europeans also have depleted oil and gas wells. They decided not to frack or even, for the most part, to invest in new wells. They outsourced their energy needs to Russia. Germany also shut down most of its nuclear plants so had even greater need for Russian natural gas to generate electricity – despite all they had invested in renewables. That’s why Germany was just about to open one more gas pipeline from Russia before Putin’s invasion. BTW, not drilling in Europe didn’t save the world from greenhouse gasses (GHG) – it just moved the GHG sources to Russian drilling (not well-regulated) and burning Russian fuel including coal.

It is not an exaggeration to say Putin’s war is financed by the fuel Europe is buying from Russia and which Europe would be in a world of hurt without.

But what about the environment?

Chart-title

The chart above tells the story. Since fracking was popularized in 2008 and the price of natural gas plummeted, the use of coal to generate electricity in the US has halved and natural gas use has more than doubled to replace it. Renewables have grown as well, partly because natural gas as a nighttime backup makes them more practical. Natural gas emits less than half the GHGs that coal does per kilowatt of electricity generated.

Us-ghg-emissions_download1_2021

The chart above shows how US GHG emissions have declined. Some of this decline is due to greater efficiency, some to renewables. The bulk of it is from substituting natural gas for coal, something we can and should keep doing.

You may have heard that fracking leads to increased methane emissions from wells. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. However, as you can see above, US methane emissions, most of which are from agriculture, have not gone up even though we are producing much more gas and oil than ever before. Horizontal drilling reduces leakage because less than 10% as many well shafts are needed to recover the fuel from a given area.  However, we can reduce leakage especially from oil wells even further, and we should.

Even before Putin’s invasion, Europe realized that natural gas and nuclear are both crucial to meeting carbon targets. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize the danger of outsourcing natural gas supply to Russia. They do now.

So what?

Drilling for oil or gas today means fracking and horizontal drilling. We have very little reserves we can tap without these technologies, and they are the cleanest way to produce oil and gas. We are incredibly fortunate that these technologies were deployed when they were, and we will need to continue to use them for years to come. We will reduce emissions further as natural gas continues to replace coal. This doesn’t mean we stop development of no-carbon alternatives including nuclear or that we pause electrification. It does mean that we do not “dis-invest” in fossil fuels until alternatives are available. It does mean that we don’t ever allow Russia or Iran or Saudi Arabia to determine our energy future. It does mean that we get over considering fracking as an obscenity.

[full disclosure: Mary and I founded a company which trucks natural gas to large users not served by pipelines. We’re proud of that but no longer have any operational or significant financial connection to the company.]

See also:

What Vermont Employers Are Telling Us (about the need for natural gas beyond the pipeline)

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

“Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019” – IEA

Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

March 21, 2022

Dear Vermont Legislature,

Have you noticed that there are both severe inflation and a war going on?

Last year when you passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) over the Governor’s veto, you thought that we needed higher prices for fossil fuels to save the planet. After all, home heating oil was only $2.77/gallon then and people weren’t hurrying to buy air-source heat pumps. Now, this week, home heating oil is $4.81/gallon. Shouldn’t you declare “mission accomplished” and try to protect Vermonters from the further price increases which are likely to come?

You seem to be going in the wrong direction. Last week the House gave preliminary approval to the “Clean Heat Standard”, legislation which, no matter what else it does, deliberately raises the cost of delivering heating oil and propane to Vermonters. Don’t you think a near doubling of prices in a year is enough? Are the heat pumps you want people to install so inefficient that a doubling of fuel oil prices won’t result in their adoption?

Part of your prescription for reducing Vermont’s carbon footprint is continued subsidies for electric cars. Over that last year, the average price of gasoline here has gone from $2.72 to $4.34/gallon. Isn’t that incentive enough? Apparently, it is because electric cars are driving off the lot faster than dealers can replenish them. The incentives paid by Vermont utilities for buying electric cars are now counter-productive to the goal of getting people to switch from fossil fuel to electricity because, since they are actually paid by electric ratepayers, they INCREASE the cost of electricity. BTW, the price of natural gas which generates 53% of the electricity here in New England has gone up 93% in the past year. We will soon see that reflected in much higher electric rates. Are you sure you want to drive those rates even higher with unneeded subsidies?

In your defense, the world has changed very fast. Even if all the assumptions you used when you passed the GWSA were correct then, the world has changed in ways few of us imagined. Turns out that printing too much government money actually does lead to inflation. Turns out that discouraging US fossil fuel production actually leads to less energy availability. You certainly can’t be blamed for the effects of Putin’s war and the effect on world fuel prices of Europe’s over-dependence on Russia as a supplier.

Inflation, low US fossil-fuel production, and this terrible war are all facts now. Please take them into account – starting now. Stop work on GWSA at least until the fog of war is cleared. Look at the effect of already higher fossil fuel prices on Vermonters and consider very carefully whether those prices already provide the incentives you were looking for to switch from these fuels that. The world is changing at an alarming rate. We need a People’s Legislature which sees the world as it is and is willing to change as quickly as the world turns.

Thank you.

See also: Subsidizing Electric Cars Might Even Hurt the Environment

March 20, 2022

Send the MiGs to Ukraine Now!

Not sending them more dangerous.

First we all thought that Ukraine would be conquered in two days. It wasn’t only Putin who made that mistake, it was almost everyone else including me. Now, because of Ukrainians’ incredible courage, we’re dangerously optimistic that they will manage to defeat the Russian invasion even though Putin is clearly willing to fight to the last Ukrainian. They may never surrender but they can be slaughtered and brutally subjugated – at least for a while.

Even if we didn’t care about them as people, we cannot afford to have them lose. At this point any end which doesn’t involve the humiliation of Putin is a clear and present danger to the rest of NATO – which includes us. If triumphant – or even allowed a face-saving way out, Putin has now learned the weakness of his army and will correct much of it before his next assault. He will also be reinforced in his belief that the West does not have the will to avoid being conquered piecemeal. Meanwhile Ukrainian refugees will become a burden on their host countries and Eastern Europe will be increasingly uncertain of our resolve to defend NATO and they will seek Russian accommodation.

Even if Russia does occupy Ukraine, we will continue our sanctions – and should. Europe will reduce its dependence on Russian energy; but that oil and gas will be sold cheaply to its other big customer – China. With a source of cheap energy including plenty of coal, China will continue to grow stronger. This stronger and even richer China will invade Taiwan, confident that the West will retreat behind a cordon of self-drawn red lines.

At some point we’ll have to face a resurgent Russia, possibly a Russia in military alliance with China.

There is no better time than now, no less risky time than now, to push the bear as far back in its cave as we can. The Russian army has been at least wounded thanks to the Ukrainians. It’ll take time for it to rebuild and reinvent itself. Putin doesn’t want war with NATO now. How do I know? Because, if he wanted such a war, he could easily have it. He’s said the sanctions are tantamount to war. He’s said that our supplying weapons to Ukraine is tantamount to war. He’s tiptoed closer to the Polish border. But he hasn’t even cut off natural gas to the countries which are arming Ukraine. He needs the money. His army clearly isn’t ready. This is the time to push him back.

I favor a no-fly zone but don’t think there’s a national consensus for that – yet. Meanwhile we should be facilitating the transfer of the Polish MiGs to the Ukrainians. It must happen in the next few days.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby say that we have decided that the MiGs wouldn’t be much help to the Ukrainians. A lot we know about that. We didn’t think they could hold off Russian tanks for two days.  Let the Ukrainians be the judge of what they need to protect their people.

Most dangerous of all is the argument Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been making in public against both the no-fly zone and the transfer of the MiGs: “It’s risky. We might end up shooting at or being shot at by Russians.” Yeah, sticking by our NATO obligations is also risky. It means shooting at Russians if the time comes. Do you think the people of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania aren’t worried we won’t be risk adverse when the Russians attack them?

There is risk in confronting Putin, no doubt about it. There’s also risk for Putin in firing the first shot at NATO, especially when his army is clearly in no shape to take on more enemies and when he hasn’t yet built more pipelines to China. There’s more risk to us in waiting until he’s stronger.

We should enforce a no-fly zone. Failing that, we must at least get the MiGs into Ukrainian hands while they’re still able to use them in our defense as well as their own.

March 16, 2022

US Policy Enables and Encourages Monopoly Behavior by Major Oil Companies

Only independent producers will bring prices down.

The Competition Problem

Producers of commodity products have a problem they’ve had ever since capitalism was invented and probably before. It’s called competition and they don’t like it. Competition forces prices and profits down; that’s good for consumers but bad for producers. The classic answer to the competition problem is monopoly. If monopoly is not possible, then collusion to keep prices high and under-supply the market is the next best choice. But such collusion is a violation of anti-trust law in the US. Moreover, if prices are too high for too long, competitors will be able to raise capital to crash the monopoly market. The price of international phone calls went from dollars to pennies per minute in a few short years at the end of the 20th century when the internet enabled new companies to crash the international phone cartel.

The oil business has long “suffered” from competition. Demand for fuel soars. Drilling increases everywhere at once. Once all the new wells are pumping; there’s more fuel than the market needs; and prices come crashing down. A well that was drilled to produce oil profitably which can be sold for $80/barrel is underwater at $60. Whoops, time to write down all those assets. Wall Street hates write-downs; there goes the stock price; can’t even pay big bonuses. What’s worse from an oil-company PoV is that those uneconomical wells keep producing even if the original drillers go bankrupt since the people who bought them out of bankruptcy paid pennies on the dollar. It takes a long, long time for prices to go back up.

Fracking to the Rescue

You think “environmentalists” are the only ones who hate fracking? Think again. It was small independent producers who implemented fracking. First they bought the price of US natural gas down by 80%. Next they brought the price of US oil down from over $120/barrel to less than $30. All of a sudden the gas and oil in the ground which the major oil companies controlled was worth only a fraction of what their books showed. Major write-downs. Major discomfort. Not only western oil companies were hurt. Russia had to be bailed out from near bankruptcy as the price of its oil went below the cost of production (ironically helping bring Putin to power). Saudi Arabia was imperiled by the Arab Spring just when it was running out of petro dollars to buy off its citizens.

Finally the majors had to frack themselves to stay in business. Their investors complained that they spent too much on drilling and were never able to harvest enough profit. Their CEOs promised to “act responsibly” meaning they would drill less and charge more. But, every time the price of oil and gas, picked up, those pesky independents raised some more capital, picked up their drilling rigs where they’d laid them down, even bought new rigs, and down came prices. Damn!

Paint my Monopoly Green

However, a new-found love for environmentalism gave the majors the cover they needed to cut production. They couldn’t conspire legally (and probably didn’t) to stop investing in new production; but they could legally announce where all their competitors could see it that they were cutting development of new wells to save the world. Lack of new production makes all the land and all the leases they hold even more valuable – even if they don’t drill there currently. But what about the pesky independents; won’t they just come back and crash the market again?

Government to the Rescue – of whom?

Not if our government can help it. We’ve used the Securities and Exchange Commission and banking regulation to discourage investment in fossil fuels. In practice that only hurts the independents who have to raise money to start drilling. The majors are awash in cash and they don’t want to drill much anyway. We’ve slow-rolled leasing on public lands. The independents drill new leases as fast as they can; they’ve got to have a cash return on their capital. The majors – as Biden pointed out - sit on their leases content to have the assets appreciate untapped. We’ve stopped pipelines which could move oil and gas more efficiently or open new areas for drilling or give more Americans the benefit of cheaper energy. We’ve effectively capped opportunity for those who could now bring us lower energy prices, help rescue our allies from their unwise dependence on Russia, and drive that country back into the bankrupt hole that Putin crawled out of.

Many people sincerely believed that outsourcing fossil fuel production to Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia helped the environment. The major oil companies rode this vulnerability as they postured green. Meanwhile, since they were spared investing in the west, they invested in Russia (did you notice them recently saying they were going to stop this investment?). Oil and gas produced in the US is a hell of a lot cleaner than oil and gas produced elsewhere. Would you want to be the one to tell Putin that production has to be cut to avoid fugitive methane emissions? War has a terrible carbon footprint and Russia’s war in Ukraine is bought and paid for by petro dollars.

Unleash the Independents

None of this has to do with whether carbon-free energy should be substituted for fossil fuels whenever that can actually be done at a price people can afford. But we need to have the carbon-free energy and the means to deliver it BEFORE we give up our own fossil fuel production. That’s become painfully clear.

We can bring supply up and prices down this year by unleasing the independents. We don’t have to subsidize them; they’ll be able to raise investment dollars once our government stops discouraging investment. We don’t want a windfall profits tax, even though the majors deserve it, because we need to bring some more expensive supply online quickly. The independents, once allowed to drill again, will keep the profits of the majors down. We should regulate old and new drilling to control fugitive emissions – but can’t let regulation be used by those who want to ban drilling altogether or to preserve their monopolies to stop the independents from providing us the energy the world needs.

I’ve been around the oil and gas patches a bit in the last decade. The independents are cowboys and cowgirls; they’re not politically correct; some spit on the ground. They need to be watched environmentally. Many of them have gone bankrupt and many will go bankrupt again; but they’re not too big to fail and shouldn’t get bailouts. Once more, we in the west need the cowperson spirit.

We can do this!

See also:

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

March 08, 2022

The Bear That Didn’t Bite

Why hasn’t Putin cut off gas and oil to Europe?

According to this story in the WSJ, Germany will continue to buy gas and oil from Russia.

“Germany and Europe are too dependent on Russian energy imports for power, heating and industrial production to be able to cut trade links with Moscow in the short term, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement.

’Europe’s supply of energy for heating, for mobility, for electricity generation and for the industry can’t be secured otherwise at the moment,’ Mr. Scholz said. Russian energy, he added, was essential for the daily lives of citizens.”

Scholz is not exaggerating Europe’s vulnerability. Why, then, hasn’t Putin responded by cutting off oil and gas to Europe or threatening to do so if NATO keeps arming Ukraine? He doesn’t hesitate to slaughter civilians or threaten nuclear war.

The only answer I can think of is that Russia can’t afford to lose the income from these sales. Russia is at least as dependent on this trade as Europe. If this is true, immediately cutting Russian oil and gas sales way back may be an effective way to get Russia the hell out of Ukraine.

Europe has no choice but to make emergency plans for doing without Russian fuel unless it intends to surrender if Putin cuts them off. But Europe needs massive help to turn the oil weapon against Putin. Helping them is our job here in the US. We need to share their pain by sharing – and increasing – our massive domestic supplies of oil, gas, and even coal. We must find a way not to be profiteers as the world price of fuels soars but instead to be the responsible suppliers of last resort.

With our tentative new-found unity and what we’ve learned of courage from the Ukrainians, we can do this. Ending European dependence on Russian fuels within months will be painful and difficult, but not nearly as painful and difficult as the defense of Kyiv. The Russian bear that hasn’t bitten yet tells us that Putin may have to fold once it is clear he isn’t getting this revenue to prop up his kleptocracy.

See also:

Stop Buying Russian Oil; No-Fly Zone

Brave Ukraine Can Unite a Fractured US

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

March 07, 2022

Stop Buying Russian Oil; No-Fly Zone

Two huge decisions for this week.

Oil

There is already a bipartisan bill in Congress to cut off US oil imports from Russia. Apparently fearing that Americans will blame him for even higher gas prices, Biden is so far not supporting this effort. This is not a time to be partisan or political. Biden should support an immediate American ban on Russian oil, gas, and refined products. Republicans should refrain from blaming him for the even higher prices which may follow. On the other hand, if Biden doesn’t support defunding the Russians in this way, he will and should get all the blame both for a lack of support for Ukraine and the higher oil prices which are coming anyway. People might even remember that it was just a few months ago when he was urging Russia to sell more oil – and increase our dependency. BTW, it will be very good for the US if Congress finally does something hard and takes responsibility for the consequences.

Secretary of State Blinken says what we must consult with our allies about cutting off Russian fuel imports to the US. That’s nonsense. If we don’t bid against Europeans for that fuel and absorb some of the pain of higher world oil prices, we help Europeans who won’t be able to cut off imports as quickly. We unlike Europeans, also profit from higher hydrocarbon prices since we are an exporting nation – thanks to fracking.

We also must do everything we can to replace Russian fuel on the world market. Our own oil and gas production is running well below the peaks of a few years ago. American rigs are standing up and drilling again but our government must facilitate, not discourage, further production. Banks should not be discouraged from lending to fossil fuel producers. Pipelines like XL must be finished and opened in months. We need liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to serve the new import terminals Europe is finally committing to building. None of this needs a government subsidy; high energy prices will finance it all if we get out of our own way. Even though it may take months for new American oil to reach the market, Russia will not be able to get financing to ramp up or even keep up its own production if it is clear that we will bring energy prices back down again.

Europe would have an awful time without Russian oil and gas right now. Much easier for us to cut the Russians off than it is for them. However, Russia may not give them any choice. What then? We must be ready to support them in any way we can with essential fuel. Longer term, Europe must tap its own oil and gas supplies even if the word “fracking” is unpopular in any language.

No Fly Zone

This one is much harder. However, the reasons that the US and the UK are giving for not imposing a no-fly zone are dangerous even if true: “It might mean war between NATO and Russia”. How can Lithuanians and other small NATO members be sure we won’t say the same thing if Russia attacks them? The only possible justification is that Russia hasn’t directly attacked NATO yet, although Putin has called the new sanctions an act of war.

I’m not certain we should impose a no-fly zone now – or that we shouldn’t. Joe Manchin as quoted in The Hill is right, however:

“To take anything off the table thinking we might not be able to use things because we've already taken it off the table is wrong.

“I will take nothing off the table. But I would be very clear that we're going to support the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian president and this government every way humanly possible.”

Why should we give Putin the freedom of knowing what we are not going to do?

The United States

The reaction to the part of the State of the Union address about Ukraine was resoundingly non-partisan. It was delivered well; it was received well. NATO has come together surprisingly quickly and effectively. A very recent Reuters poll shows Americans overwhelmingly willing to accept temporarily higher energy prices and even in support of a no-fly zone.

Our unity will be preserved by effective action; it will be wasted by ineffectual or partisan dithering. Our unity and willingness to act, to learn from the example of the brave Ukrainians, may be the last, best chance to avoid a choice between nuclear war and surrender.

See also:

Opinion: How to beat Putin, for real (Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post)

Brave Ukraine Can Unite a Fractured US

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

March 01, 2022

Brave Ukraine Can Unite a Fractured US

But only if we can break the habit of tearing each other apart.

Nothing is as inspiring as the brave Ukrainians fighting against Putin’s brutal invasion. The TV cameras show the expected stream of refugees escaping – mostly women and children, then pan over to the Ukrainian men going back to save their country. Each morning I wake up and quickly check my phone to see if that flag still waves over Kyiv. Like most people I assumed that a Russian blitzkrieg would immediately succeed. I hardly dare to hope. But I do.

Amazingly NATO has come together. Germany nixed Nord Stream 2, made concrete plans including LNG terminals for energy independence from Russia, and began budgeting the 2% of its GDP which is supposed to go to NATO – and released weapons for Ukraine. The sanctions declared by NATO – and others like Japan and even Switzerland – really have teeth. Turkey has indicated it will exercise its treaty rights to prevent some Russian warships from entering the Black Sea. Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO as it has become clear why NATO protection is needed.

In the US it seems that everyone from Bernie Sanders and The Squad on the left to Mitch McConnell, Liz Cheney, and even Kevin McCarthy supports the need to support Ukraine. That’s a very broad spectrum. Yeah, Trump thinks Putin is a “genius”; but we already know Trump isn’t fit to hold public office. Yes, the extreme left (and some on the right) says the whole blow-up is our fault because we allowed countries escaping the Soviet Union to join the NATO defensive alliance See a damning critique of the idiocy of the Democratic Socialists of America at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/a-letter-to-the-western-left-from-kyiv/.

But bitterness in America runs so deep that even normally sensible people are preoccupied with throwing fellow Ukrainian supporters out of the tent for their real or imagined past sins. @billkristol tweeted “It’s worth remembering now, as so many Republicans pin ‘Stand with Ukraine’ images to their profiles, how little most of them cared when Trump withheld military assistance from the country in 2019 as he pressured Zelensky to do his political dirty work.” thebulwark.com/shame-on-those…” I don’t think he really means to say that anyone who failed to denounce Trump shouldn’t be allowed to support Ukraine. A lesson we all should have taken (Putin, too) from this episode is that Zelensky is no pushover for bullies.

Do we want to say that Bernie Sanders, after a lifetime of being an apologist for Russia and leftwing dictators, shouldn’t now be allowed to support Ukraine? Hell, no. Welcome to the tent, Bernie. Does Obama have to apologize for sending socks (or was it gloves?) to Ukraine after the Russian annexation of Crimea before he’s allowed to support Biden on Ukraine? Nope. All support welcome.

Before WWII there were a significant number of Americans (including Lindberg) who were pro-Hitler and an uncomfortable number of Nazis as well. Before Hitler invaded Russia, American communists (including my parents) were against the US getting involved in that war. After Pearl Harbor there were rumors Roosevelt had deliberately ignored intelligence that the attack was coming so the American public would support the war after the day that has lived in infamy. The great and strong and broad middle of America came together in support of that war. We must come together now no matter what we were wrong about in the past. Putin is counting on our not being able to do that; sowing disunion is a specialty of his.  

Our unity might just prevent another world war.

See also:

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

February 25, 2022

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

Christophe-dion-3KA1M16PuoE-unsplash
Artillery of the Energy War


We in the west unilaterally disarmed when we shut down our nuclear plants, discouraged fracking for oil and gas, stopped building pipeline, and – in Europe, at least – outsourced fossil-fueled energy supply to Russia. Bloated on revenue from oil at over $90 barrel and with Europe literally over an energy barrel, Putin has unleashed real war. BTW, his war is not very good for the environment as well as being a calamity for the Ukrainian people and a clear threat to the rest of us.

This is a war we must win. The only hope for winning without actual fighting – and this may be a vain hope – is to take wartime measures to defang Russia by relieving European dependency on Russia’s gas and oil and crushing the price of those commodities. We can do this but not by pursuing business as usual.

Germany, despite initial reluctance, has ruled out opening the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to their country – at least for now. Biden has said that we will release oil our strategic oil reserve. Some of the proposed sanctions will make it more difficult for Russia to finance its energy industry. These are good first steps but not nearly enough.

Germany must postpone the closing of its last three nuclear plants; this closing is now scheduled for the end of the year. Anywhere in the west including the US any scheduled nuke shutdowns which can safely be postponed must be postponed. This is a good green move, by the way; the alternative is burning more very dirty coal to keep the grid operating.

Here in the US we must stop our civil war on fossil fuel extraction. Our fossil fuel competes on the world market with fossil fuel from Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia – not with green energy. We can drill responsibly – and must. How much do you think Putin worries about fugitive methane emissions from Russian wells? We crashed the world price for oil just a few years ago (pre-pandemic), brought it down below $40/barrel. We can do that again. Our natural gas coming by tanker is now crucial to keeping Europe from having to choose between freezing and absolute surrender.

By NEXT winter we must make sure we can ship twice as much natural gas to Europe. Yeah, I said NEXT winter. That means we immediately permit and build new pipelines to new LNG terminals from areas of the US – like the Marcellus – which have an over-supply of trapped gas. It also means we build and commission new LNG tankers immediately. The tankers are the warships of the energy war. They can and must be built now.

Lng tankerNavy of the Energy War

We now need to finish and open blocked oil pipelines like Keystone XL. Remember, they are an alternative to a hot war and dirty Russian oil; they are not instead of renewables but in addition to them.

Speaking of renewables, we need to rebuild our grid to carry renewable and non-renewable energy around the country and allow us to further electrify and take some of the pressure off fossil fuels. It is possible that some sub-species of chipmunks will have their habitat disturbed. Can you imagine the environmental impact statement for Putin’s war?

Europe can’t leave all the fracking to us. Tapping their own gas fields is now clearly necessary.

Longer term the US and Europe and Japan and Australia must license several standard models of small, safe nuclear plants and actually build them. We should set a moon-shot target of having the first new nuclear plant in decades online in the next two years. We must achieve this target. We also must finally open the nuclear waste facility in Yucca Flats. Two years doesn’t solve the immediate problem of Russian energy blackmail, but it reduces Russian energy prospects and financing available for them to continue to build out their oil and gas industry. Putin has left the Russian economy almost entirely dependent on oil and gas revenue. The Russian people must be shown that that dependency will lead in short order to financial ruin.

What we must not do is trade allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon for some short-term relief by having Iranian oil as a substitute for Russian supply. We don’t want to put both the energy weapons and nuclear weapons in more aggressive hands. We can and should tell Saudi Arabia to drop out of the oil cartel with Russia and start pumping if they expect any further help with Houthi rebels or Iran itself.

Human energy is required as well to win the energy war. This is an effort like building during WWII. Factories must retool; retraining must happen. It’s time to shake off the Covid fear and lethargy and get back to work. No sitting back and watching it play out on TV and twitter.

We handicapped ourselves with a premature retreat from nuclear energy and fossil fuels. The world is in immediate danger. Just as we did after the disaster of Pearl Harbor, we can emerge from weakness stronger than ever.

Can’t we?

This morning (2/25/22) at 11AM ET I’ll be on  WDEV (96.1 FM, 550 AM) in VT with Bill Sayre discussing Russia’s brutal invasion of the Ukraine. Streaming at https://wdevradio.com/stream/. It's a callin so you can question and opine as well.

See also:

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

A Moment of Clarity by #noahpinion

How to Beat Putin with Natural Gas by Kenneth C. Griffin and Niall Ferguson

February 23, 2022

Starlink’s zoomready Rating Is Going Down

The service is usable for teleconferencing but has annoying glitches. Lately quality seems to be deteriorating, at least here in central Vermont.

Zr2-16-22
zoomready is open-source shareware I wrote to measure the suitability of an internet connection for teleconferencing. As you can see above, Starlink had an average zoomready rating of 2.66 out of a possible 3.0 over the four measured days. The problem is NOT bandwidth, which has fluctuated but stayed above the minimums needed for good teleconferencing. The problems are failures (most of them short), latency, and jitter. Too often it takes too long for a packet to get from my machine to the internet and back (latency); the latency varies widely (jitter). Together subpar latency and jitter make for momentary freezes and poor audio during teleconferencing.

I am now fortunate in having both a Starlink dish and a fiber connection through Stowe Cable. I’ve stuck with Starlink on my machine; but Mary is connected through fiber. Note below how much better the results are when running zoomready  on her machine during an overlapping period of time.

Zrsc

There were no failures during the ten days we were monitoring and only a brief period when jitter and latency were subpar, so brief that the average zoomreadiness was 3.0 both for the last hour and for the whole monitoring period.

I’m disappointed in these results. Starlink has improved since I first installed it over a year ago but lately it seems to be getting worse here in central Vermont. This decline in service levels may be caused by more users sharing the service; it is still way, way better than traditional satellite which can’t be used for teleconferencing at all and better than most DSL. It can be used for teleconferencing – I use it that way; but there is a definite quality difference from fiber. The service may improve as more satellites are launched with satellite-to-satellite laser and other technical improvements are made.

In some rural areas the latest promises are that fiber is still five years out. Starlink, once you clear the waiting list, is an alternative today. Unless Starlink improves; its users will be at a substantial disadvantage as the teleconferencing environments of the future require both more bandwidth and lower latency.

If you run Windows and want to monitor the quality of your Internet connection, you can learn more about zoomready and download it free at http://freecheckip.com. It has no ads, does not use cookies, and doesn’t spy on you in any way.

See also:

Freecheckip.com – My New Website

When Zoom Freezes Over – Free Way to Find Out Why

https://blog.tomevslin.com/starlink/

February 15, 2022

Subsidizing Electric Cars Might Even Hurt the Environment

Electricity is NOT an energy source; it’s just a way to move energy from place to place! Obviously, before electricity can move a car, the electricity must be generated somehow.

Electricity sourcesAccording to the US Energy Administration Agency, in 2020 40% of US electricity was produced by burning natural gas, 19% from coal, 20% from nuclear, 13% from wind and solar,  7% from hydro, and 1% from petroleum. When we plug in our electric cars, we create a new demand. In the short-term, that new demand will almost always be met by burning more natural gas since you can’t tell the sun to shine brighter or the wind to blow harder. Coal and nuke plants don’t spool up quickly and there is only so much water available behind the dam. In practice electric cars are natural gas cars except not quite as efficient because of electrical transmission losses.

“Yeah, but…” say the proponents of subsidies for electric cars, “more solar and wind is being built so eventually those cars will be running on renewable energy.” Trouble is that by the time we get to eventually, this generation of electric cars and their lithium batteries will be somewhere in the waste stream. “Yeah, but…”, say the subsidy proponents, “at least 20% of the energy for these cars is coming from renewables.” But a new electric car doesn’t create a greater supply of renewable energy. If it happens to use electrons which came from a solar panel, something else won’t be able to use those electrons and they will almost certainly be replaced by more electricity generated from natural gas.

We electric ratepayers and taxpayers subsidize not only electric cars but also the generation of electricity from solar and wind. In order for an electric car to reduce emissions, we have to subsidize enough renewable energy to power the car. That means that the cost of using electric cars to reduce emissions is much higher than even the outrageous subsidies they already receive.  Looked at another way, these cars don’t reduce emissions at all because any renewable energy they use must be replaced by non-renewable energy. It’s double counting to add the emissions saved by replacing gasoline cars to the emissions saved by generating more renewable energy if that new energy is going into the cars. Yet subsides for electric cars remain one of the most popular proposals for reducing greenhouse gasses. They have long been part of Vermont’s plans for reducing greenhouse gasses.

I have both solar panels and a plug-in hybrid. I received subsidies for both; but I’m only reducing emissions once. If my “clean” electricity goes to power my car, then I’m not reducing the overall load on the grid. If my solar-generated electricity goes into the grid, then my car is running on non-solar electricity. Neither subsidy actually influenced my decision, which may be the case with many early adopters.

Electric cars are going to happen even without subsidies. From an engineering point of view the development of electronic controls means that electric cars increasingly have capabilities that combustion engines can’t match. There will be very little fossil fuel used to generate electricity if we regain our sanity with respect to nuclear energy. If we really build back better, we’ll also have an electric grid which is safely decentralized, efficient, and hardened so that we can afford to rely on it for much of our energy needs.

Our security and the grid will be endangered if electric car adoption outstrips the energy available to power them and the ability of the grid to transport that energy. We want to prepare for more electric cars by building a better grid and adding new supply including nuclear. But we don’t want to subsidize electric cars or force their premature adoption.

See also:

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got

February 09, 2022

Freecheckip.com – My New Website

Even free stuff needs to be sold or it won’t be used; that’s why freecheckip.com.

In retirement I can’t seem to stop programming. I have been doing it for 60 years; it put our kids through college and software has been an important component of the companies Mary and I started. These days I write open source shareware: code any one is free to use, modify, or include in their own products. Most of what I write is to help people monitor and hopefully improve their IP connection. We’ve all seen how important a good IP connection is during the just-ending (I hope) pandemic and good connections are a particular problem out here in the sticks.

Zr.1.10

zoomready monitoring starlink connection

zoomready, pictured above, is my most ambitious project so far and is one of the tools available at freecheckip.com. It can be used to continuously monitor the status of any IP connection. There are also some nerd tools for doing speed checks from Python (a cool programming language) and clients I collaborated on to report the status of Starlink connections around the world to starlinkstatus.space, a very helpful website shown below.

Starlinkstatuspage

map of North American starlink status

Some background on open source shareware

As nerds already know, there a huge amount of code in every programming language under the sun available on the web to learn from, to copy, or to us as the basis of new projects. Some people contribute because they believe all software should be free and are practicing what they preach. Others know they benefit in their own work by being able to build on what their predecessors  have done and feel a need to give back . Some (like me) just like to see their code used. Also, I’ve just found out, there is also a good business reason to write shareware; it’s an advertisement for what you can do. I am getting requests for paid custom versions of what I’m giving away. If I were still running a software company, I’m sure I’d be encouraging our programmers to post lots of shareware.

The open source part, the fact that you can actually see the code the programmer wrote, is important. For one thing, I’d be reluctant to just install something from somebody I don’t know on my computer unless I at least had an opportunity to look inside and see what it actually does. If I were thinking of hiring shareware writers, I’d certainly look at the quality of the code they write. Making the source code public also make it much, much easier for people to build on what you’ve done and to help you find your bugs.

Please take a look at freecheckip.com and see if there’s something there that might be useful to you. I am very grateful to all those whose open source I’ve built on and learned from: thank you.

See also:

Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location

How to Find Out Free If Starlink Will Work at Your House

February 01, 2022

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

Drill, baby drill is a peaceful (and environmentally sound) response.

The threat to peace

At over $80/barrel for oil, Russia and Iran are awash in profits; today’s price is $88. They can afford guns and butter. We see the results on the borders of Ukraine and in increased attacks by Houthi rebels on the UAE. At $40/barrel, both countries have all they can do to stifle internal rebellion against autocracy, kleptocracy, and general mismanagement.

Responding to Russian aggression in concert with NATO is difficult because Europe obtains 40% of its natural gas from Russia. This heating season began there with low supplies because more than a usual amount of gas had been burned to supplement unusually low yield from wind and solar used to generate electricity. Russia has refused to sell enough additional gas to Europe to refill the reserves, which keeps Europe particularly vulnerable to any threat from Russia to reduce the flow and does not leave Europe in a position to reduce Russian import revenue. Our European allies have asked the US to help them find more gas; but we are limited both by self-imposed restrictions on our supply and the prior refusal by some counties – especially Germany and France – to allow LNG import facilities to be built.

Germany made itself particularly vulnerable when Andrea Merkle over-reacted to Fukushima with a hasty shutdown of Germany’s nuclear capacity for generating electricity.  Realizing that this created a need for natural gas, Germany contracted with Russia for supplies through a new gas line between the two countries, Nord Stream 2. Significantly Nord Stream 2 bypasses Ukraine through which much Russian gas reaches Europe today. The US has opposed Nord Stream 2 for security reasons, but Biden backed off on opposition early in his term in a bid to improve German-American relations. The pipeline is essentially finished but Germany has not yet given final approval for its operation. Meanwhile, Germany has had to increase coal use and is suffering from soaring electric rates because of high natural gas prices.

The threat to the environment

The incoming Biden administration has moved quickly to make oil and natural gas more expensive by canceling pipelines and refusing to issue drilling permits. As higher oil prices showed up at the pump, Biden was in the ridiculous situation of begging OPEC and Russia to increase production. His intent was to save the environment by reducing the use of fossil fuels. The affect was simply to increase production and the profitability of production is places like Russia, where there are no effective environmental restrictions on dirty drilling and leaky pipes while reducing production here where we can enforce good practices.

With natural gas prices up and supply down, Europe has been burning more coal. Coal emits at least 50% more CO2 per unit of energy than oil and 100% more than natural gas. Far from saving the environment, actions taken to reduce US production have INCREASED greenhouse gas emissions and strengthened our adversaries.

So now what do we do?

Franky the US hasn’t had a good record of carrying through on its threats nor of convincing Europe to take strong joint action.  It’s unlikely that threats of any kind, especially threats of yet more economic sanctions, will deter Putin as long as he has the upper hand. We should take the steps below now – regardless of what Putin does – to reduce the advantage that high energy prices and tight supplies give Russia (and Iran).

  1. Drive oil prices and Russian oil revenue down immediately by increasing sales from the US strategic oil reserve. We needed those reserves when OPEC could cut us off; they can’t do that anymore. There is enough petroleum in the reserve to add 10% per day to the amount we are producing for almost two years. It won’t take that long to bring oil prices down.
  2. Don’t get in the way of increased US production of oil and gas. Fortunately, we have a private sector which has already responded to high oil and gas prices by increasing production. We have demonstrated that we are the world’s swing producer; we can make oil and gas prices crash. We should do so.
  3. Don’t let the major US oil and gas producers push regulation which shuts down their smaller competitors. Left to themselves, the majors are just fine with high oil prices because their value is the value of the wells and reserves they already own. It takes aggressive small producers to keep them honest.
  4. Do, however, regulate fugitive gas emissions from oil well drilling and gas pipelines. Use infrastructure money to rebuild leaky municipal gas systems; someday those pipes will carry clean hydrogen.
  5. Continue building pipelines to ocean ports so American energy can reach the world market and drive world fuel prices down again. Remember that most of this fuel will replace other fossil fuel from places which are not nearly as scrupulous environmentally as we can be.
  6. Tell our European allies that we have their back for long-term gas supplies and that we support their new emphasis on nuclear power to reduce the need for fossil fuels – and drive energy prices down. But tell Germany that they can’t have it both ways. No Nord Stream 2 if we are their supplier of last resort.

All the above will be much more effective than sanctions-as-usual. And will protect the environment from coal and dirty drilling as well.

 

January 24, 2022

Building Affordable Housing is NOT a Good Way to Get More Affordable Housing

We don’t build used cars.

Was you first car a new one? Not unless you were very lucky. Mine was a ‘55 Chevvy bought in ’64 to get to my summer job. Its headlights were held on by duct tape. Did you leave your parent’s home for a brand-new house or freshly built apartment? Probably not. I moved into an aging “efficiency” with a hot plate for a stove; but it was better than living with my parents and close to my job.

In 1955 my car was new and someone bought it who could afford it. They or some successor sold it me as they stepped up into a new, new car. My dreary efficiency apartment was carved out of a larger apartment in a building which must once have been new. Somebody moved out of it and that made room for me to move in.

Vermont has two housing problems:

1) a homeless population, some of whom can’t afford to live anywhere (and some suffering from other problems which make them unable to care for themselves);

2) a lack of housing which health and day care workers, construction, and trade people – the people we depend on – can afford to live in.

There is a flood of federal money (debt we’ll have to pay some day as federal taxpayers). Both Governor Scott and the legislature want to spend a lot of that money on our housing problems. As much as homelessness is an acute problem and a misery for too many people, building low-income housing will not solve either housing problem. However, we can use relatively little money and a lot of flexibility to both create housing for the workers we want to attract and retain and to provide affordable housing for some of those now on the street.

New housing is not affordable to the homeless any more than a new car was affordable to me when I began to work. A work-around has been to subsidize either the cost of building the housing and/or to provide subsidies to low-income tenants in new buildings. Either way, we can only provide low-income housing until the subsides run out. Moreover, there is almost always local resistance to low-income housing from those who fear that its proximity will drive down the value of their own houses and perhaps make their neighborhood less safe as well. The low-income housing either doesn’t get built or is even more expensive requiring larger subsidies because of the long delay.

Suppose that we make it possible for more “market-rate” housing to be built, housing which people can afford to rent or buy without subsidy. Some of that housing will go to newcomers to Vermont (whom we need); the rest will go to working Vermonters who will move up from where they used to live and leave vacancies behind. In a phenomenon called “chaining”, other people will move up into the older housing which is now vacant and someone else with less money or less needs will move up to fill those vacancies. Eventually (two or three years according to some studies) the least expensive houses and apartments which were left behind become affordable to those who currently can’t afford any place at all. These vacancies – the used cars of the housing market – are in existing neighborhoods, not clustered in subsidized ghettos. No local opposition can stop them from being built because they are already there. It’s in the interest of neighborhoods NOT to have vacancies.

If we enable market-rate housing to be built with private money, the increase in available low-income housing is no longer tied to the subsidies available to build or rent it. Since there is high demand for housing in Vermont, housing will get build with private dollars in Vermont and that new housing will benefit both working Vermonters and the homeless.

So why isn’t private housing – other than McMansions – being built to meet the demand? The simple answers are exclusionary zoning and over-regulation. Many Vermont towns require large lots – 10 or even 25 acres – per house. (I live in such a zone in Stowe). Act 250 makes it much more expensive regulatorily to build a cluster of homes than to build a few very expensive houses on large lots. We subsidize leaving unproductive land in farming rather than let any of it spoil the view by having houses on it. Vermont villages often forbid buildings more than two stories high downtown. Other areas are zoned single family, no sharing allowed. The rich protect their view without the inconvenience of buying adjoining property and working families aren’t allowed to build. We are pro-housing in theory but anti-development in practice. New middle-income housing has nowhere to go.

As described in VT Digger, Fairlee, VT is making innovative changes to its zoning both to provide for growth and to preserve open spaces. Buildings in downtown will be allowed to grow to three stories, which makes an enormous difference in rental economics – two stories above the shops and restaurants instead of one. Holders of large woodlots will be able sell development rights to those with smaller lots. Income from those sales makes it more economical to keep the trees growing while the purchasers of the development rights will be able to build more densely on small lots.

Burlington is also looking at how to make more space available for housing development. According to VT Digger:

“Some of those zoning changes would put a large swath of the South End under mixed-use zoning guidelines, meaning it could be developed for apartments and houses. As part of Thursday’s announcement, the city released an agreement with neighborhood stakeholders endorsing the concept of an ‘Enterprise-Innovation District’ that would transform empty spaces and parking lots into housing.”

Even though we have a tsunami of federal dollars available, we won’t solve Vermont’s two housing problems by building subsidized housing. We don’t want to build used cars. We do want to allow (not subsidize) the building of market-rate residences in order to make housing available up and down the income spectrum. We can’t be both pro-housing and anti-development.

See also:  Failing Dairy Farms Are an Opportunity to Grow Back Better

January 18, 2022

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

That means converting to direct current.

There’s no argument that our electric grid needs to be rebuilt. Some of it, like the transmission lines that sparked the California fires, is dangerously past its use by date. Much of it, like the lines radiating out from the site of the former Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, are in the wrong place. The design is centralized as a relic of the days before advanced electronics and communications made decentralization a more resilient and cheaper option. Almost all of it carries alternating current (AC) as result of an argument Nicholas Tesla won over Thomas Edison a century ago. Most important, the grid is not ready for the loads we will put on it as we continue to electrify. It is also not reliable enough to be the sole source of energy for transportation and heating.

Times have changed. All the electronics in our houses use direct (DC) and not alternating current; that’s why they are plugged into our AC outlets through the ubiquitous converter bricks. Almost all energy efficient appliances use direct drive motors and convert AC to DC internally. LED light bulbs are better with DC. Water heaters don’t care.

ACDC

The illustration above is from a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) The report estimates that at least 10% of the energy coming into a house is lost in conversion from AC to DC. The number is much higher if a storage battery or an electric car is also being charged. The number gets higher each time a rechargeable tool replaces a gasoline-powered predecessor.

All solar panels generate direct current. All batteries are charged with direct current. But, if you have solar panels and battery backup today, the output from the solar panels is converted to AC by an expensive piece of equipment and at a significant energy loss; then, at the battery, the AC is converted back to the DC the battery needs by another expensive piece of equipment and more energy is squandered. These inefficient systems exist today because the transition from AC to DC had been unplanned; that’s no one’s fault.

But now we have a chance to build back better with the money already appropriated in the 1.2 trillion dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Fortunately we have time. The last great stimulus bill in the Obama administration was a jobs bill. We had to put people to work right now right now even though we didn’t have constructive “shovel ready” jobs for them. Unemployment was very high. That was then and this is now. We have a shortage of people to do what we were doing before the pandemic. We can plan and design and then really build back better while we’re training the workforce we’ll need.

These are some of the rules we need:

  1. Any new transmission line and any line which is substantially rebuilt with the federal money must be DC. There will be a transitional cost of equipment to convert to AC where local sub-transmission or distribution is still AC. Think of these convertors as scaffolding for building back better. After all grids are DC, we won’t need them anymore.
  2. Any new distribution line and any distribution which is substantially redone with the federal money must be DC. Again there is a transition cost to convert to AC at houses which still need that.
  3. Building codes should be amended (a local and state job) to permit and encourage DC and hybrid houses as in the diagram below (also from ACEEE).

Hybrid

Once the distribution system is switched to DC, the inverter at the entrance to the house is no longer needed.

  1. After a transition period no grant money or subsidy of any kind should go to equipment for converting from DC to AC as part of solar or wind turbine installations or from AC to DC for battery installations.
  2. Give consideration to going underground for new and rebuilt parts of the grids for reliability reasons (and to prevent forest fires). There are less problems in burying DC lines than AC lines.
  3. Take advantage of the rebuilding of highways to bury electrical (and broadband) conduits as well as drainage.

America and Americans will have a huge advantage if we are the first major country to go all DC. Our energy costs will be lower as will emissions from generating electricity. Electricity will be more economical and reliable enough to replace much fossil fuel. The money’s already been appropriated.  We can build back BETTER.

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