What happened to the days when the public utilities were actually that? That is that they were owned by their ratepayers. The main job for the utility was to service the customer. To provide dependable power at a reasonable cost. Making maintenance and infrastructure upgrades for future growth. Some were privately owned, and some were municipal. But the job was still to service the customer. There has been a shift though. A great many of our public utilities have become public corporations. They are now beholden to the shareholders. The job of that corporation is to maximize profit, it’s all about quarterly returns. Forget maintenance or long term planning. They are just running the the thing into the ground to maximize profits. Push the infrastructure to the brink. Only make repairs when something is broken. The whole thing just gets less dependable and dirtier. The price of your utility goes up.
Why is this happening? because you have just shifted from being the the customer to being the product! It’s not about providing you with your utility, it’s about maximizing the profits the corporation can get from you. The product the company now produces is your hard earned money. You have just realized that at the end of the buffet table is an abattoir….. Pubic utilities are different from other businesses. They are a monopoly of a sort. You don’t have a choice as to which water pipe you connect to or which power line. Your choice is what is there. Your only choice is whether you use it or not… not much of a choice. There really is no free market at this point. That is why public utilities should not be publicly held by shareholders. They should be owned by their ratepayers, to service them, their customers.
There are places in the world where people are getting fed up though. There is a group of towns in Germany that have bought back the grid in their area. This is a trend that should happen in more places in the world. The grid and other utilities should be put back in the hands of the ratepayers. We are not a product… we want the service.
There was a time in this country when Americans had brand loyalty. We paid a bit more for something because we knew it was of good quality, and we could trust the company that made it. It was a time when you could make a good a enough wage that you could pursue the american dream. You could own a home, the wife could stay home and raise the kids. You could plan for your retirement. What happened?
At some point the shift went from quality to least expensive. Our loyalty went from the trusted brands to the low cost big box store. At the time it seemed like a good idea. Wow, look at all the stuff I can buy! and it’s so cheap I can just throw it away when I’m done with it, or it breaks which probably comes first. But what is the cost of all this cheap stuff? How does it get so cheap. Well the answer is that it is not cheap. We buy this stuff form other countries where wages are lower. And it’s inexpensive since shipping costs have been so low. To compete, other manufacturers have had to move overseas. Slowly our domestic jobs have been leaving the country. We are at a point when we have everything we could ever want, at a price we can afford, except for one problem. Wages have gone down, and unemployment has gone up. So we can’t afford it anymore.
But how do we actually pay for it? All the cheap energy is paid for by the environment. That is a whole other story. The price pressures have shifted jobs overseas. The jobs that remain keep making less money. But people still need enough to live on. Where does it come from? The person living on minimum wage probably gets food stamps, and uses the emergency room when ever they need medical help. who pays for that? We don’t even think about the tip that we leave for our servers, but without it they would be living on minimum wage. Every one of the government assistance programs for people living below the line, is a shifted cost from cheap stuff. We are still paying for it, just not directly. There is a tax deduction for teachers that buy there own supplies. Another way to shift the cost from the school system to the federal government. And when I say federal government I means us! Every one of these assistance programs is the price of cheap stuff. So the truth is that it is not so cheap, the price being the american standard of living. But how do we correct it? It’s not going to happen overnight….
It’s starting to correct itself…. a bit. The cost of energy is driving up shipping costs. Globalization takes away from security. Like when the tsunami hit japan and it shut down domestic businesses, or the current standoff in the gulf that may drive up petroleum prices again. Customer satisfaction goes down when you have to talk to a call center in Mumbai. These forces as well as national security are starting to bring jobs back to the US. The next problem is wages. Business complains that they can’t afford to pay more than a minimum wage. But the cost of minimum wage is shouldered by the taxpayer. Every benefit that minimum wage earners need to survive is a hidden cost. The minimum wage should start to rise with the cost of living, plus some percentage, till it reaches a living wage. Businesses will say that it will make there products more expensive. But that will put the burden on the buyer of the product not the taxpayer. Big business should be paying higher taxes on profits that are not plowed back in the business. We should be using the tax system to influence the kind of behavior we are looking for. Corporate taxes should be high with deductions for improved efficiency, cleaning up emissions, improving the work environment, or even providing healthcare for it’s workers. Happy worker are productive ones. And when they can afford the products they produce our world will be a better place.
Some of you may not know what I do when I’m not blogging. I have been working on making electric car conversions. Without going into lot’s of details. I have just completed a conversion of a Porsche Speedster replica. The challenge was to make a car with more than a hundred miles range, and still have a usable car. That is, to have some space left for the occupants and their stuff. Now the Speedster is a small car to start with. There was just a small bit of space behind the seats and a little under the hood. I’ve used the space behind the seats for some of the batteries, but have a trunk now. The engine was placed in the back before. The electric motor is still there but is so much smaller that I have a trunk big enough for a suitcase and a packpack. In front there is enough room for a small suitcase. My wife and I have driven to Palm Springs a couple of times now. The trip is 124 miles with enough energy left over to go to the market or liquor store before we plug in at the Ace Hotel. So that works out to a total range of 140 miles. The Ace has six charge outlets. Three at 240 volts and three at 110 volts. The whole trip uses about 20 kWh of electricity. That works out to around 2 bucks at LADWP daytime rates. But with their EV night time rates, that is around a quarter. To make things even better, the Ace Hotel will be adding solar panels to their resort to take the hotel off the grid and make the driving even greener. I will be adding a solar awning to my building to charge my car, so that all my trips will be off the grid.
That is the amount of energy I use for the entire trip is the amount that the refineries buy from the grid to produce a little over 5 gallons of gas. All that without burning the gas or any of the associated costs of petroleum. I drove eight thousand miles last year for a total cost of about two hundred dollars in electricity.
The problem that we have is the disconnect between the price of energy and it’s costs. The price of energy in this country is subsidized in a few ways. There are price supports as well as allowances. When I say allowances I mean that they are allowed to do things and not pay for them. Like mountaintop mining. They are allowed to cut the top off of a mountain, remove the coal, then just put the dirt back and plant grass. They are allowed to destroy ecosystems, whole river ways, entire mountains. Plus poison groundwater, and pollute the surrounding areas with the tainted runoff from these operations. whole communities are displaced and whole ecosystems are destroyed. What if that had to buy all the land that they destroyed at market value, and the mountain had to be put back together, and the whole thing had to be monitored and maintained for the next hundred years. Perhaps the price of mountaintop removal would not be so cheap.
Subsidizing energy is like feeding wild cats, it doesn’t fix the problem it just makes it worse. Look at the effect. We have less efficient vehicles. We live in larger homes. we have more stuff to throw away. and the average commute is growing every year. At what point does the price of energy start to effect the decision making process. twice, three times? My energy costs are quite low. I drive an electric car, which cost me about $80 bucks a year. I don’t have A/C and I use my heat only rarely. It’s not that I choice to be uncomfortable or scrimp. I live in a building that is naturally comfortable in an area that gets a breeze almost everyday in the summer. I have high efficiency appliances, compact fluorescents and LED lighting, and not wasteful. When I put photovoltaics on my building I won’t ever have to pay a utility bill again.
Japan is faced with the huge task of cleaning up after the earthquake and tsunami. There are tons of rubble in a mixed mess of materials. The problem is to get rid of it quickly and recycle as much as possible. The big pieces are easy to separate, Things like blocks of concrete, cars, and structural steel. But what to do with the rest of it. Normally the rest of the material would be dumped into a landfill or burned. But there is a huge opportunity to do things differently. The smallest pieces of waste can be run through a shredder and run through a commercial garbage separator. That would separate out the metalic and glass components. any sand would end up with the glass. The rest of the material would be things like wood, plastic, and garbage. There is a process called Thermal Depolymerization. In the simplest description of the process, the material is heated and the vapors are re-distilled back into liquid fuels. Basically a synthetic diesel fuel. About 15 percent of the energy produced is used to run the plant. The other 85% is now a very clean, sulfur free fuel oil. My belief, is that this kind of process would be at home in any city. There is no reason we should be sending anything to a landfill. We have the technology to recycle everything in some way. Thermal Depolymerization is the last piece of the zero landfill puzzle. The process can use tires, garbage, plastic, paper, even medical waste and manure. The process breaks down hazardous wastes and even hard to destroy prions. Companies are trying to commercialize the process, But it’s not the huge moneymaker that investors are looking for. But it is the kind of solution that should be implemented in all cities just to reduce the amount of stuff that goes into the landfills.
Here’s the problem. Let’s say you are that rich person who has just made a ton of money. With the tax brackets as low as they are, all you need to do is have some good investments. When your tax bracket get into the teens, it’s pretty easy to make investments good enough to offset that kind of tax. With that you can hang on to your money forever. What is it about this arrangement that would make you want to spend that money to start a new business , since most new businesses fail anyway?… You are better of hanging on to your money since the statistics are in your favor.
Here is how you create jobs. Tax money that doesn’t move. The tax rate used to be around 73% for the highest tax brackets. That is a high enough rate to get me to spend my money before it’s taxed. If you know you were going to lose that much money by hanging on to it, what would you do? I’d start a new business and create some jobs. Just look at the numbers. Loose more than half your income or put it someplace where it will do some work. Even if you invest in a new business and it fails, there are still tax breaks for that. The tax system should be used as an influence to have money put to good use, like starting new businesses, not one that rewards risky strange complicated investments that add nothing to the economy and only enrich the most wealthy on the backs of the middle class.
The way to create jobs is to tax stagnant money, and I don’t mean 401K’s. I mean money that is in the coffers of the rich and huge corporations. If they have to use the money in the same tax year as it was earned, you would see lot’s of investments, improvement and upgrades. All of which creates jobs.
The easiest way to find more energy is to waste less. It is surprising how wasteful we have become in an age of cheap energy. Whenever I do an electric car conversion for a customer, I send out an energy consultant to do an energy audit. Most people waste more energy than what they would use to drive their car. A few simple changes and they get to basically drive for free. Ideas are cheap so I’m going to throw some out there right now.
Diesel electric trains have huge resistors on top of the engines to use as electric brakes. They engage the electric motors when going downhill to slow the train. The excess power turns these resistors glowing red. It just get’s lost to heating the atmosphere. New electric trains put that power back into the lines, so other trains can use it. It makes the whole system more efficient. It’s like the cable cars in San Francisco. The ones going down the hill help the ones going up.
There was a time when energy was expensive, so what did the first utilities do? They sold the waste heat. Buildings close to generating stations bought their steam from the power companies to heat the buildings. We should be using those kind of ideas today. I was in Indianapolis recently and I could see the smokestacks of the power plants out across the flat landscape. There was one within a few blocks of my hotel. I could see the smoke and steam rising as the plant fired up in the morning just as the sun was rising. The hotel had huge power lines coming into the building to run the individual heat pumps for each room. They had kerosene heaters just inside the doors, before entering the lobby. All this with a generating station a few blocks away wasting half of it’s energy right out into the air.
We should be situating businesses that require heat in their manufacturing processes near power plants. It saves energy and money. It makes good economic sense. it provides a hedge against the rising cost of fuel.
How about building a cement plant in the desert and using a solar furnace instead of a gas kiln to make their product.
There is a company in New Jersey that makes a building board from waste paper. I asked why their product was so expensive. It should be cheap since it’s make from waste products. their biggest expense is PROPANE! do you know how hard it is to dry wet paper in a place that has such high humidity. They could make the same thing in Nevada and just open the doors.
There is a lot of talk about using fuel cells to produce power. They are at least as efficient at producing energy as coal fired power plants. but they are 100% efficient if you include the heat produced. This is called co-generation. How about this for some outside the box thinking… A laundromat that uses natural gas to make it’s power, but uses the waste heat to run the driers?
Air conditioners are just heat pumps. They pump heat from one place to another. Pump it out of the room and it get’s cool. The problem is that the hotter it is outside, the harder it is to get rid of and the less efficient it gets. Think of a big radiator outside getting rid of the heat from inside. On ships they pump the heat to a heat exchanger that is connected to the sea. It’s much more efficient to get rid of the heat into cold sea water. On land why not use a swimming pool. The inside of the building is cool and the pool is hot as a bonus! Speaking of swimming pools… how does anyone lose a home to wildfire when they have a swimming pool? sprinklers on the roof of a properly designed home run by a small pump…
I could go on. It doesn’t take that much imagination to figure out lots of way to maximize energy. I drive an electric car and I have solar panels. I’m planning for passive solar heat. The price of fuel and energy can go through the roof and it won’t effect me. The whole country should be thinking that way. The whole world should.
Times are tough right now and everyone is afraid to start new businesses. Green business is hard to sell in case it effects jobs. There is little capitol out there to invest in such things. But what if they make economic sense? If alternative energy was a money maker investment would flow… so how long do we have to wait till the prices of coal and oil get expensive enough to have renew-ables to make sense? Well, let me tell you something. They already make sense. It’s just that our reality is a bit twisted. Coal and Oil is subsidized,and so is Ethanol for that matter. Here is what is so twisted about this picture. Without subsidies coal and oil should be roughly twice the price of what it is now, so even Ethanol wouldn’t need a subsidy. Here is the big picture. Energy in the US is subsidized by the government through taxes to keep the cost of energy low, to maintain the American dream of staying comfortable in our homes and the ability to move about freely in our cars. The reality is that when energy costs are low, we drive ever larger cars and live in less efficient houses and use energy at a rate that is increasing faster that we can find it. And who pays? Well in the long run, everybody. But in the short term it’s the taxpayer, You and me. But it’s not a direct cost, which is the problem. What if we payed the real cost directly? On our power bill and at the pump? Perhaps you might have spent the money you used for that room addition for new windows and insulation? and maybe a smaller car with better mileage would have been in order… These are decisions that would be in line with a world of diminishing resources. The problem with these subsidies is that it changes the way we make decisions. If we cant attribute the costs directly, how do we make a good decision. Imagine you are just one of the kids on the playground, and once a week the teacher put you in detention, but never told you why. You would have no opportunity to change your behavior and get out of detention. You would just think this is a part of the schedule. Well that is essence is what we are doing now. We are the ones paying to keep dirty energy cheap, and wondering when alternative will ever be affordable. Let’s get out of detention!
If dirty energy lost it’s subsidies, if dirty energy had to clean up after itself, Alternatives would be cheap. Who pays for the destroyed mountains, and habitats from mountain top removal? Who pays to monitor the 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico? What about the tainted ground water from natural gas fracking? How about those thousands of miles of aging gas pipelines all over the country? The answer is that WE do, as a public. There is a NIMBY attitude right now, but give it time. Soon it will be in your back yard. If you think about this country as your back yard, then you should be pissed off already. Don’t wait till a gas pipeline under your house blows up.
In Europe, the price of gas is about twice what we pay. They drive more efficient cars, and have better public transportation. Of course Europe had trains before the advent of the automobile, but it was a time when the cost of energy was very high. It meant cutting down trees. So naturally the system was designed to be efficient. The Electric trains of today are far more efficient that the steam trains of the past. Travel by rail is inherently efficient, so improvements make it even better.
The problem in this country is that the use of subsidies has become perverted. Subsidies and tax breaks are supposed to be a tool of government to influence. The idea is to be able to influence people and corporations to move in a positive direction. Not to enrich the pockets of the most profitable corporations in the world. The system of government with it’s very influential lobbyists is broken. The influence has been completely the opposite of what is needed. If we could just find a way to get rid of subsidies for dirty energy. To have these companies pay a meaningful amount for their leases, enough for the government agency policing them to pay for itself. To have them clean up and monitor their messes. And the allow the price of energy to rise to it’s true cost. We would then see that renew ables would be the cheap alternative. They actually have been for a long time.
Brought to you by the Chevrolet Volt…. Thanks guys.
Let me see if I can give a good explanation of how energy works. I get at least one of these a week. Some one who thinks they have figured out how to build a car that never needs charging. Combinations of motors and generators to make more power than it takes in. It takes power to make power. Have you ever heard one of those big gas powered welding machines, how they strain when the welder starts an arc? That’s the motor straining to make power. There are tons of videos on YouTube showing you how to make free energy. These are parlor tricks. You can use a small low voltage motor to run a high voltage generator. “LOOK! it’s using 12 volts in and putting out over 100 volts.” and yes it is. But, at a fraction of the amps. Think of electricity like water. The voltage is the pressure and the Amperage is the flow. it’s like a small hose with high pressure, or a large hose with low pressure. You still fill the bucket at the same speed. The speed at which you feed the bucket is the work that you do. How many buckets you fill and how fast. In electricity this is called watts, it’s a measure of work. SO, let’s look back at the 12 volt motor. 12 volts in, at say, 100 amps. That’s 1200 watts. If the high voltage generator were perfectly efficient, then at 120 volts it would produce 10 amps, but in truth it’s probably only putting out a lot less. There is no free lunch. At very best, with no friction and perfect efficiency one could keep things moving. Like in outer space.
Let me tell you where all the energy goes in a car. Ever try to push a car? It’s not easy, unless you are going down a hill. This is called rolling resistance. It is the amount of energy it takes to overcome the flexing of the tires. That is why tires get hot, it’s the wasted energy you can feel. The harder the tires, the easier it is to push, but the rougher the ride. That is why trains are so efficient, less rolling resistance. The rest of that resistance has to do with all the gears and bearings that have to turn in oil or grease. They have resistance and they get hot too. After about 35 miles an hour, you now have wind resistance. Stick your hand out the window of a moving car and you will feel it. That is why a small aerodynamic car can get better mileage than a big motorcycle. Both of these are energy that is lost while driving. And you can’t get it back.
Now that the car is moving, it has momentum, we can get some of this back when we use regenerative braking. That is, turning the electric motor in the car into a generator and using it to slow the car. It also works going down a hill. But this is only a small part of the energy it takes to move a car so we only get a 15 to 20 percent more range.
So, to sum it up… no amount of wheel generators, propellers, or fans in the grill are going to let you drive without charging the car somehow. The best is to make the car as light and aerodynamic as possible, and go as far as you can on as little as possible.
Let me put some hope back in the message here. You can drive on free energy. Most people waste more energy that they would need to drive a car. Use the energy that you would be wasting. Get an energy audit and see where you are wasting power. One of my clients got an energy audit and found that he saved 65% on his bill. More than enough to drive his car.
If you want to make an investment in your retirement, get the electric car and put solar panels on your roof. you won’t have to pay for electricity or your transportation when you retire….