Category: Economics

How do you run a bus on poop?

The UK’s first bus powered entirely by human and food waste has gone into service between Bristol and Bath…The 40-seat “Bio-Bus” runs on biomethane gas generated through the treatment of sewage and food waste.

The eco-friendly vehicle can travel up to 300km (186 miles) on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of about five people to produce.

It is run by tour operator Bath Bus Company and will shuttle people between Bristol Airport and Bath city centre.

The biomethane gas is generated at Bristol sewage treatment works in Avonmouth, which is run by GENeco, a subsidiary of Wessex Water.

GENeco general manager Mohammed Saddiq said: “Gas-powered vehicles have an important role to play in improving air quality in UK cities but the Bio-Bus goes further than that and is actually powered by people living in the local area, including quite possibly those on the bus itself…”

Har! Hold that thought.

Bath Bus Company’s Collin Field, said: “With so much attention being directed towards improving air quality generally, the public reaction to the appearance of this bus on a service between a world heritage city and an airport will further focus on the potential for this particular fuel…”

Bristol sewage treatment works processes around 75 million cubic metres of sewage waste and 35,000 tonnes of food waste each year.

A total of 17 million cubic metres of biomethane, enough to power 8,300 homes, is generated annually at the plant through a process known as anaerobic digestion.

Yes, it gives me the idea to harass the pols in town – in Santa Fe. The city was the first in the United States to institute buses running on compressed natural gas. Seems to me the easy bit would be conversion to bio-gas. OTOH, the city’s wastewater and sewage treatment facility seems incredibly inefficient. Might be an occasion for doing something bright with the process?

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Life with a Tesla — spent more on tires than electricity

David Noland always knew electric cars were cheap to run, but this is ridiculous. [OK - Back to first-person]

After I bought the first set of replacement tires for my 2013 Tesla Model S (at 26,000 miles), I crunched the numbers and came to a startling conclusion: I’ve spent substantially less per mile for my electric “fuel” than I have for my tires.

The tires weren’t cheap. The Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season grand-touring tires set me back $250 apiece, plus mounting and balancing, for a total of $1,131.

Over 26,277 miles, that works out to 4.3 cents per mile. Pretty typical for a high-performance luxury sedan.

Over those same 26,277 miles, I used a total of 8,531 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

But, thanks to Tesla’s network of free high-power Superchargers, I didn’t pay for all of it.

As best as I can figure, I drove about 5,500 Supercharged miles during that time, including a 2,500-mile round-trip to Florida from my home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

That means I probably sucked up around 1,800 free kWh from the Superchargers.

So let’s say I paid for 6,700 kWh…My local utility, Central Hudson, charges about 14 cents per kWh. (Unfortunately, it offers no special night-time or electric car rates.)

So, let’s do the math: 6,700 kWh x 14 cents/kWh = $938…Divide by 26,277, and my total “fuel” cost per mile works out to a remarkable 3.6 cents per mile.

That’s 20 percent less than the per-mile cost of the tires that carried me on all those miles.

Yes, you can spend more – or less – on electricity or tires. Or tyres [I spent more years selling tyres than tires - few countries use American spelling for English].

RTFA for the fun and satisfaction of driving a car absent fossil fuel and the direct pollution that results. Tesla also takes advantage of the rate of torque transmitted directly to the road by a DC motor. It is a feeling that demands gobs of horsepower from anything that requires fire inside.

Thanks, Smartalix

Google joins fight against overfishing


Click to enlarge

Google has partnered with SkyTruth and Oceana to produce a new tool to track global fishing activity. Known as Global Fishing Watch, the interactive web tool uses satellite data to provide detailed vessel tracking, and aims to harness the power of citizen engagement to tackle the issue of overfishing.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are working at peak capacity, with as much as one-third of marine fish stocks now suffering from overfishing.

Though a clear issue, the distant and out-of-sight nature of commercial fishing creates a problem when it comes to accountability. To help combat this, Google has teamed up with marine advocacy group Oceana and mapping company SkyTruth to develop the Global Fishing Watch – a tool that allows anyone with an internet connection access to the timing and position of intensive fishing around the world…

The tool shows users the number of hours that individual ships spent fishing certain areas, and allows almost anyone to explore global fishing activity. Users can filter data by country, and can even look at the route taken by individual vessels, with a data point being created every time a ship sets and retrieves its lines.

In the long run, it provides fisherman and companies with an opportunity to illustrate that they’re obeying the law in regard to overfishing. It will also likely prove a useful tool for researchers, who will be able to access a comprehensive database of global fishing activity, with data spanning back for years.

I grew up in a family that relied on subsistence fishing for most of our weekly animal protein. It was early days for coastal trawlers. They would be considered small and inefficient by today’s factory ship standards.

Still, we knew if just one showed up and wandered along our favorite fishing spots – no matter what variety of fish was running at the time – we might as well pack up and go home. There would be nothing left for us for the next few days.

No one in government cared a rat’s ass either.

Too many people, not enough water — now and 2,700 years ago


That may be the US Embassy over on the right — or at least the inspiration for the one in Baghdad

The Assyrian Empire once dominated the ancient Near East. At the start of the 7th century BC, it was a mighty military machine and the largest empire the Old World had yet seen. But then, before the century was out, it had collapsed. Why? An international study now offers two new factors as possible contributors to the empire’s sudden demise – overpopulation and drought…

Adam Schneider of the University of California, San Diego and Selim Adalı of Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, have just published evidence for their novel claim…

The researchers’ work connects recently published climate data to text found on a clay tablet. The text is a letter to the king, written by a court astrologer, reporting (almost incidentally) that “no harvest was reaped” in 657 BC.

Paleoclimatic records back up the courtier’s statement. Further, analysis of the region’s weather patterns, in what is now Northern Iraq and Syria, suggests that the drought was not a one-off event but part of a series of arid years.

Add to that the strain of overpopulation, especially in places like the Assyrian capital of Nineveh (near present-day Mosul) – which had grown unsustainably large during the reign of King Sennacherib – and Assyria was fatally weakened, the researchers argue…

“We’re not saying that the Assyrians suddenly starved to death or were forced to wander off into the desert en masse, abandoning their cities,” Schneider said. “Rather, we’re saying that drought and overpopulation affected the economy and destabilized the political system to a point where the empire couldn’t withstand unrest and the onslaught of other peoples…”

Schneider also sees an eerie similarity between Nineveh and Southern California. Though people weren’t forcibly relocated to Los Angeles or San Diego to help an emperor grow himself a “great city,” still, the populations of these contemporary metropolitan areas are probably also too large for their environments…

“The Assyrians can be ‘excused’ to some extent,” they write, “for focusing on short-term economic or political goals which increased their risk of being negatively impacted by climate change, given their technological capacity and their level of scientific understanding about how the natural world works. We, however, have no such excuses, and we also possess the additional benefit of hindsight, which allows us to piece together from the past what can go wrong if we choose not to enact policies that promote longer-term sustainability.”

Republicans – like their mentors at the US Chamber of Commerce – are tucked neatly into the wallets of legacy fossil fuel corporations. Wealth derived from out-of-date means of profit still sufficient to buy enormous political power is close to being one of the most contemptible uses of power in a capitalist economy.

Nineveh wasn’t this advanced. I’m not certain about Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats either.

Thanks, Mike

The Impossible Burger interview

Angie Lau & Patrick Brown
Click for the interview [after a brief commercial]

Impossible Foods CEO and Co-Founder Patrick Brown discusses his company’s products which are made entirely from plants, creating a sustainable source of food and why he says his products are made a better way — with Bloomberg’s Angie Lau on “First Up.”

Amazing what computational analysis and genetic engineering are getting ready to make possible. I have a couple of old acquaintances – retired molecular biologists – who probably would like to start all over again.

Unintended consequences — DOE loan program is now profitable

The U.S. Department of Energy, led by Secretary Ernie Moniz, is trying to change how people perceive its loan program, which doled out over $30 billion in loans over the years, funding clean energy projects like huge solar panel farms, but also now-bankrupt solar startup Solyndra. Why? Because the Department has another $40 billion left to hand out in the program, and of course it wants that process to go as smoothly as possible.

Moniz and DOE officials said in interviews Thursday morning that the loan program is now starting to make a small profit ($30 million from interest payments), and eventually the program could bring in between $5 billion and $6 billion over 20 years.

Not that realities of government research and kickstarter programs are anything conservative pundits and politicians will ever admit to being useful.

The program wasn’t designed to make money, and it actually had $10 billion set aside to cover losses. The loss rate on the first $30 billion was only 2.28 percent, or $780 million, of which $535 million was for Solyndra, and some of the rest from Fisker. Abound Solar and Vehicle Production Group were also small losses. Now interest payments have covered all of those losses and brought it into the black…

For example, the DOE loan program funded a number of large solar panel farms that couldn’t get debt financing with its first $30 billion about five years ago, Moniz pointed out last month. But now that solar panel farm development has come down in price substantially, and private funding has become readily available, the private sector has taken over this type of investment and the DOE has moved on. This is the type of model that works for the DOE, said Moniz. But of course bringing newly commercial technologies to market can be risky…

With the…news that the original loan program is actually profitable, it will be interesting to hear from all those critics who used Solyndra as a political talking point, including in the last presidential election. Is the ghost of Solyndra finally dead? If the money’s been covered by interest payments, it seems as if it should be.

I think Katie Fehrenbacher has a cynical streak in her DNA at least as persistent as mine. After all, she earns her living writing about cleantech, clean energy and the struggle to develop national policy based on science and humanity. None of which are topics of interest to Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats or the sort of cretin who hasn’t embraced a new economic or social idea since the designated hitter was allowed in half of baseball.

But, I appreciate her optimism. Even if it presumes courage and understanding I consider scarce.

Denmark on track for 100% renewable energy

Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.

Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?

Anyone at the TIMES realize what a wonderful context requires a question like this?

Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.

The trouble, if it can be called that, is that renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed. That is potentially a huge benefit in the long run.

But as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day.

That can render conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining…

The governments have offered short-term subsidies, knowing that if they force companies to operate these plants at a loss, it will be a matter of time before the companies start going bankrupt.

Throughout Europe, governments have come to the realization that electricity markets are going to have to be redesigned for the new age, but they are not pursuing this task with urgency. A bad redesign could itself throw customers into the dark, after all, as happened in California a decade ago…

Amazing. An adult supposedly knowledgeable about power generation, pricing and, yes, price manipulation – who apparently never heard of Enron. The corrupt company with even more corrupt capitalists at the helm who deliberately induced many of California’s so-called power shortages.

The government is…well aware that it needs to find a way out of this box. Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago…

So the trick now is to get the market redesign right. A modest version of reform would essentially attach a market value, and thus a price, to standby capacity. But Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, told me he was tempted by a more ambitious approach. That would involve real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

As Denmark, like other countries, installs more smart meters and smart appliances able to track those prices with no human intervention, one can imagine a system in which demand would adjust smoothly to the available supply. Most people would not care if their water heater were conspiring with other water heaters to decide when to switch on and off, as long as hot water reliably came out of the tap.

Has Mr. Gillis ever traveled, lived among ordinary folks in Europe? First time I ran into tankless hot water heaters was in Switzerland – in 1971. Prices gave been coming down as efficiencies rose – even for electric models instead of gas-fired. We installed an on-demand electric hot water heater in our home this summer for less than $400 for the unit. Our household electric bill is down 20-30%. Payback in one year.

Yet, even if Denmark can figure out a proper design for the electric market, it has another big task to meet its 2050 goal: squeezing the fossil fuels out of transportation…Mr. Petersen told me he still felt electrification of cars was the way to go, but the cars themselves were not really ready.

“We need longer range and lower prices before this becomes a good option,” he said. “Technology needs to save us here.”

Fortunately, there are more than one or two automobile manufacturers dedicated to resolving that portion of the questions asked. Builders ranging from Volkswagen/Audi/Porsche to Mercedes, Nissan/Renault, target less expensive electric cars with ranges extending 250 to 550 miles decades before the 2050 renewable electrification target date.

At the mid-price point and up for big luxury cars Tesla is already there.

An important footnote BTW. Save the arguments about “manageable” small countries vs what is needed to change over the United States. It can be done one state at a time, one region at a time. Denmark is bigger than a number of states. So is the size of that nation’s population.

The important bit is that the citizens and politicians are also smarter, sensible and willing to change. That’s the significant comparison.

The $9 billion witness — JP Morgan’s worst nightmare

Alayne Fleischmann

Meet the woman JPMorgan Chase paid one of the largest fines in American history to keep from talking

She tried to stay quiet, she really did. But after eight years of keeping a heavy secret, the day came when Alayne Fleischmann couldn’t take it anymore.

“It was like watching an old lady get mugged on the street,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t sit by any longer.’”

Fleischmann is a tall, thin, quick-witted securities lawyer in her late thirties, with long blond hair, pale-blue eyes and an infectious sense of humor that has survived some very tough times. She’s had to struggle to find work despite some striking skills and qualifications, a common symptom of a not-so-common condition called being a whistle-blower.

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing…

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her…

This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called “statements of facts,” which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.

And now, with Holder about to leave office and his Justice Department reportedly wrapping up its final settlements, the state is effectively putting the finishing touches on what will amount to a sweeping, industrywide effort to bury the facts of a whole generation of Wall Street corruption. “I could be sued into bankruptcy,” she says. “I could lose my license to practice law. I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, then this really is all we’re going to get: the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

I won’t try to edit this superb Taibbi article down to something that fits the front page of a blog post. RTFA.

Suffice it to say Matt Taibbi has taken Alayne Fleischmann’s inside information about joint corruption between Wall Street Banks and our so-called department of Justice to whitewash syndicated crime on a scale never before seen. It brought us the Great Recession, an economic crash sufficient to sink the American economy absent the frantic and creative Keynesian scrambling and dispensing of billion$ in loans to keep the rolling disaster afloat.

It’s long and loaded with firsthand details. The details our government and most of our Free Press has been smothering with sound bites and sleight-of-hand for years.

Cummins-Peterbilt ‘SuperTruck’ achieves benchmark 10.7 mpg

This article is several months old; but, just as relevant. Lots of creativity active in the space; but, no one with a critter like this, tested and traveling the country as a rolling testament to improved fuel economy for big rig freight haulers.

class-8-tractor-trailer

Cummins and Peterbilt say tweaks to the big rig are a significant step forward all by themselves, considering a fully loaded, 64,000-pound class 8 truck like this would have been seen as OK if it netted 5.5-6.5 mpg just a few years ago.

Improvements for the SuperTruck include an average 75-percent increase in fuel economy, 43-percent cut to greenhouse gas emissions, and 86-percent increase in freight efficiency. These numbers were said to be “real world” indicators based on 24-hour, head-to-head testing running at 64 mph against a 2009 baseline truck.

Behind the SuperTruck program is the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) already working ahead of Obama’s latest mandates, and for which the truck was on display as a symbol of progress…

Gains were attributed to the Peterbilt Model 579 with “best-in-class” aerodynamic efficiency. The Cummins ISX15 engine converts exhaust heat to additional crankshaft-turning power, and the system is controlled electronically to maximize fuel usage. Of course a host of diesel exhaust after treatment is also employed.

Weight was also pared off of the big truck. Its 312-mile test route was the same course that saw just under 10 mpg for the first version of the Peterbilt SuperTruck two years ago.

At today’s diesel prices, Cummins and Peterbilt estimate an annual fuel savings of $27,000 over a 120,000 mile year.

Full disclosure, I own enough Cummins shares to pay for 2 new tyres for my pickup truck in dividends.

There’s an article over here from truckinginfo.com which delves into the details of many of the tweaks.

Ready for the next Do-Nothing Congress?

Peter Orszag wrote this before Tuesday’s elections. It was published at Bloomberg View before voting even started. He doesn’t enjoy being this sort of savant – but, I don’t think he’s wrong?

The question of the day is, What difference will it make if Republicans take the Senate?

The backdrop is a highly polarized political environment. Regardless of whether it’s preferable for Congress to enact bipartisan laws, the moderates who produce them are so rare that only partisan legislation is likely to be considered. Getting such laws passed, though, requires that one party control not just the House and the Senate but also the White House. In a world where you need all three, having two as opposed to one doesn’t matter much.

The need for greater control is especially the case in the Senate, where at least 60 votes are generally required to get anything done. The Republicans, to be sure, could use a process called reconciliation to pass budget-related bills with just 51 votes, but even then the legislation is subject to a presidential veto, which takes 67 votes to overturn. And while it’s true that a noticeable number of Senate Democrats are moderates (and their ranks may swell a bit after today), their votes will not be so easy for Republicans to obtain and are probably not sufficient to assemble a veto-proof majority.

So anyone who expects a Senate shift to produce broad tax reform or immigration reform over the next two years is likely to be disappointed. Tax reform is easy to say and hard to do; immigration reform is slightly more plausible but still very unlikely in the polarized environment. So what might happen?

One bad scenario is another outbreak of fiscal drama. The U.S. economy seems to be recovering, despite headwinds from abroad, in part because, for the past year, lawmakers in Washington have not created needless uncertainty. Next spring, however, the debt limit, the doc fix and other fiscal cliffs will rear their ugly heads…

What about health care? Votes to repeal Obamacare may be inevitable, but they will not have sufficient support to override the inevitable presidential veto. Republicans may do better with targeted legislation aimed at provisions that are unpopular with a number of Democrats. On that list are the medical device tax and the Independent Payment Advisory Board. I am a supporter of both, and believe the Independent Payment Advisory Board in particular has been widely misunderstood, but they are politically vulnerable. The White House would be wise to start defending them now — or at least limit the damage any changes might impose…

Mostly, though, we should expect continuation of not very much from Washington. Inaction, to be sure, is better than drama…

Orszag is more optimistic than I am. And he thinks the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the sort of free trade deal that will benefit the United States. I sincerely doubt it will benefit anyone in my neighborhood; but, then, ain’t any homes expensive enough to satisfy Mr. Orszag or his new/old buddies now that he’s back on Wall Street after leaving the Obama Administration.

He ain’t moving in.