Thursday, June 29, 2006

Buggy Whips

Yes, it’s easy to inveigh against the oil companies. Gas prices rose by 50% in a few weeks. Did supply decrease by any such comparable amount? I think not. China and India are sucking up oil like a ’64 Ford Galaxie – but that didn’t happen over a weekend. Katrina was a bottleneck that has long since opened up – yet gas prices are holding at the inflated price. Hmm. I’m all for market forces, but it smells fishy to me.

But I could be wrong. It takes 12 miles to turn a battleship around, and for all that the US economy is a sensitive thing, the oil monopolists are perhaps blunter in their capacity for perception. Maybe there’s just a built-in lag time. As to that, we shall see. But I read where Chevron is reinvesting all of its windfall profits into exploration. This is an excellent thing. Gives one hope, if one were inclined to hope. Alas, it really does seem to be rather like developing whale farms to supply bone for corsets. They’re all the rage now, but fashions change, what? Some fabulists envision a time when the fair sex is so bold as to wear no corsets at all! Fantastical, I know, but I am merely reporting the rumor.

My point being that the internal combustion engine was cutting edge technology in the 19th century – but time’s winged chariot has hurried on, and it wants a new engine of locomotion. The electric car? Sure, let’s go 60 miles an hour, for an hour. But you know, when you think about it, that’s not at all unreasonable. In fact, it’s pretty good. Sure, it ain’t no hip roadster you can just leap into and tool off to the wine country for a quick brunch and maybe catch the Third Annual Sommelier Sneer-off they’re holding out back. But if you do happen to live in a city, what’s the problem? Most leases and new car warranties expect you to drive about 12,000 miles a year. That’s about 50 miles per weekday. Ha! Ten whole miles a day that are just gravy! Hurrah for the electric car.

And it’s not as if a pretty fair number of Americans are not part of a two-or-more-car family. You can load up the Chevy Monsterado when you need to haul your yacht to the regatta. But for popping down to the tattoo studio slash tanning booth, it seems not unreasonable that an EV would turn the trick.

Of course, I came of age in a time of gas rationing and lines around the block. One thing I do understand about economics is that if hardly anyone gets in the line, it will not only be short, but the price will be low. And if the price is low, we might expect that profits will be low. And regardless of any profits the oil companies are making, I’d dearly love to see Señor Chavez down south foment his unrest on a budget. And for all that I’d like to see the Middle East prosper, when we consider what the sheiks have done with the petrowealth we’ve seen fit to endow them with, perhaps some enforced austerity would discipline more than their pocketbooks.

It seems like the patriotic thing to do. I would gladly take a clammy lefty hand in mine and march to a common end, albeit for a different purpose. Save the planet? Global warming? Sure, mate, whatever stokes your furnace. Let’s just start moving.



delftsman3 said...

I can agree with your thoughts but for one thing...the one thing that the enviro's forget is the fact that the electricity has to come from somewhere in the first place. Our power grid infrastucture could not currently support the power needed if we were to convert to electric vehicles in a wholesale manner. And even if we built the requisite power generation stations (good luck with THAT, given the current environmental restrictions!)they operate on OIL, and natural gas to a significant extent, so it would just be changing one set of users to another. Coal fired plants would mitigate that to an extant, but the pollution controls needed to help keep the air breathable would raise the costs higher for the end product..maybe to the point where $3. a gal gas would seem a real bargain. We need to develope a whole new technology. What that will be, I don't know, but I sure hope it emerges soon.

Jack H said...

Yeah, I've heard that pointed out before. We do tend to make the mistake of supposing that electricity is just somehow free. But I can't help but think there's a fallacy in the objection. Something to do with econony of scale. A bazillion little power plants chugging along and turning chemicals into energy - like burning buffelo chips on a camp fire, for crying out loud - just don't seem as efficient as a well-designed master plant. But maybe that's too Soviet, or something.

It's like the folk who say recycling actually uses up *more* resources and energy. Is such a thing possible? I don't see how, except maybe that it isn't capitalists who run the centers. Bring on the capitalists. Even with solar- and wind- and what have you power, there is going to be the cost of manufacture and distributing etc. Point is, I just don't see the downside to having every roof in sunny Southern California covered with solar panels. Wouldn't work in the rain country, but in sunlands, sure. Big upfront cost, but then it's cheap. And no oil. Hurrah!


delftsman3 said...

"A bazillion little power plants chugging along and turning chemicals into energy - like burning buffelo chips on a camp fire, for crying out loud - just don't seem as efficient as a well-designed master plant."

Your logic would seem to be correct, but think of it, California ALREADY doesn't have the electrical capacity to keep every thing going during peak hours during hot weather NOW, hence many heavy urban areas experience brownouts for hours at a time. Now add in the equivilent of another 2 or 3 million air conditioners to that.

Yeah, putting solar collecters on every house just might solve that problem, assuming each house would provide the power to charge one car... how many people could actually afford the money it would cost to provide the initial installation, especiallly given the high housing cost already endemic in Ca.? I could buy a HOUSE in my area for that same amount of money.

delftsman3 said...

As for the recycling costs. That depends on WHAT is being recycled. Recycled Aluminum and various other metals is a big cost saver, but most other items are a draw in cost at best. The environmental "savings" might make that draw a good deal over all, but the products themselves aren't cheaper to produce. Some products are actually more expensive to produce from recycled materials.

Jack H said...

As with most things, it's a balance between principles and practicalites. Conservation is a good thing in itself. Recycling is generally the right thing, although perhaps not always specifically. We must avoid a foolish consistency.

The embarrassment of limited electricity in SoCal is a problem which the grand American spirit - not to be confused with the stunted Sacramento spirit - could readily fix. Rather than wait for some new technology to come along and save the day - as it surely will, but the day may be a long way off - there really are clean and viable sources now. I may be stuck in the '70s, but a quick web search just told be that solar power is still a going commercial venture. Going rate seems to be about $4.50 per watt.

If the average household uses 700 KWH, it looks like it would cost about $25,000 to be totally solar-dependent - or independent. There's one company that seems to do it for $10-12 thousand:

Hmm, that's still quite a chunk of change. But houses in SoCal average around half a million. Get's things in perspective. In any case, there are very effective ways of constructing houses that conserve energy. I used to be interested in all this, and memory has not entirely failed me. The idea is that we don't have to become enviro-fanatics - just sensable, conservative stewards. Changing a few details on blueprints, and a few alterations in materials, can make a huge difference. A few thousand dollars of panels would take a big bite away from the grid. It would certainly be enough to recharge an EV - and if gas prices remain steady at an average of $3 per gallon (yeah, like *that's* gonna happen), and if the average vehicle gets, say, 20 mpg (ah, I'm such an optimist), and if the average driver travels 12,000 miles per year, then it costs $1800 a year for gas. In a year or so, the panels pay for themselves, and after that it's free. Yippie.

In the mean time, I seem to recall that at least one nuclear power plant is in the works for the US. I suppose there are abandoned salt mines deep enough to hold the waste. This is hardly the new technology we all hope for, but it's better than sitting in the cold and the dark, or making the sheiks rich and the terrorists bold. Those bastards.