Category: Economics

UBS urges investors to join the renewables revolution


Click to enlargeVillage of Eitting near Munich, Germany

Big power stations in Europe could be redundant within 10-20 years as electric cars, cheaper batteries and new solar technologies transform the way electricity is generated, stored and distributed, say analysts at the world’s largest private bank.

In a briefing paper sent to clients and investors this week, the Zurich-based UBS bank argues that large-scale, centralised power stations will soon become extinct because they are too big and inflexible, and are “not relevant” for future electricity generation. Instead, the authors expect it to be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and to store any surplus energy in their own buildings even without subsidies.

In language more closely associated with green NGOs, the bank with assets of more than $1.5tn says it expects a paradigm shift away from large-scale conventional power plants. “Power is no longer something that is exclusively produced by huge, centralised units owned by large utilities. By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, ie, not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities,” say the authors, who urge their financial clients to “join the revolution.”

“Solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology. The biggest drawback has been its intermittency. This is where batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) come into play. Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then, a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car. But it will save up to $2600 a year on fuel cost, hence, it will begin to pay off almost immediately without any meaningful upfront ‘investment’. This is why we expect a rapidly growing penetration with EVs, in particular in countries with high fossil fuel prices.”

The expected 50% reduction in the cost of batteries by 2020 will not just spur electric car sales, but could also lead to exponential growth in demand for stationary batteries to store excess power in buildings, says UBS. “Battery storage should become financially attractive for family homes when combined with a solar system and an electric vehicle. As a consequence, we expect transformational changes in the utility and auto sectors,” it says. “By 2020 investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe…”

By 2025, falling battery and solar costs will make electric vehicles cheaper than conventional cars in most European markets. “As a conservative 2025 scenario, we think about 10% of new car registrations in Europe will be EVs. Households and businesses who invest in a combined electric car, solar array and battery storage should be able to pay the investment back within six to eight years,” UBS says. “In other words, based on a 20-year technical life of a solar system, a German buyer should receive 12 years of electricity for free.”

But the bank does not expect power companies or the grid to disappear: UBS says they have a future if they develop smart grids which manage electricity demand more efficiently and provide decentralised back-up power generation.

But, hey, your SUV is running OK. Cousin Ernie’s Chevy pickup truck does everything it should do. If our public utilities need to be modernized – well, that’s what we have state legislatures and regulatory commissions to take care of. Right?

Leading Americans in the direction of renewable, cheaper, cleaner sources of electricity is probably as unnecessary as eventually converting the Affordable Care Act to a single payer system. This all may save money and improve our quality of life; but, isn’t it all a little too foreign for Americans to adopt?

About these ads

Fossil fuel electricity under real threat from solar and wind power

windfarmsea
Click to enlargeStiftung OFFSHORE-WINDENERGIE

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States.

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.

Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

Professional naysayers, bought-and-paid-for skeptics, conservative ideologues rooted to political failures like Ayn Rand see the fruit of their labors rejected by economic reality – as usual. Solid facts, real advances are beginning to progress as predicted – or better. That won’t shut them up. The money tap remains wide open. But, ordinary folks, working class, middle class, however you slice and dice your class analysis, are starting to reap the benefits of the new means of renewable energy production.

No one is more tradition-bound than public utilities. They function like constipated manure machines. They’ve been producing cowshit for research and analysis for so many generations they are incapable of changing their business model to match a dynamic economic landscape.

Meanwhile, globalized competition encouraged by the group of nations acting responsibly to counter climate change are affecting the cash flow and profits of corporations sitting around like children in a temper tantrum – demanding the people who recognized the need for change now spend tax dollars to bail them out of their self-generated disaster.

They should be replaced by common sense, scientific, economic solutions. Send them away. Build them a leaky rest home next to one of the Koch Brothers coal heaps.

Scottish Independence — Vulgate Opposition

If Scotland gains its independence in the forthcoming referendum, the remainder of the United Kingdom will be known as the “Former United Kingdom” …….or FUK.

In a bid to discourage the Scots from voting ‘yes’ in the referendum, the Government has now begun to campaign with the slogan “Vote NO, for FUK’s sake

They feel the Scottish voters will be able to relate to this.

If I was hanging out with my old mate, Morris, in his favorite pub in Greenock – that might get me nothing more than severely pummeled!

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Rising wealth for the wealthy — continued decline for the rest of us

During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data…

These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat.

Affluent households typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home…

Overall, the wealth of America’s households rose by $5 trillion, or 14%, during this period, from $35.2 trillion in 2009 to $40.2 trillion in 2011. Household wealth is the sum of all assets, such as a home, car, real property, a 401(k), stocks and other financial holdings, minus the sum of all debts, such as a mortgage, car loan, credit card debt and student loans.

During the period under study, the S&P 500 rose by 34% (and has since risen by an additional 26%), while the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index fell by 5%, continuing a steep slide that began with the crash of the housing market in 2006…

The different performance of financial asset and housing markets from 2009 to 2011 explains virtually all of the variances in the trajectories of wealth holdings among affluent and less affluent households during this period. Among households with net worth of $500,000 or more, 65% of their wealth comes from financial holdings, such as stocks, bonds and 401(k) accounts, and 17% comes from their home. Among households with net worth of less than $500,000, just 33% of their wealth comes from financial assets and 50% comes from their home…

Looking at the period from 2005 to 2009, Census Bureau data show that mean net worth declined by 12% for households as a whole but remained unchanged for households with a net worth of $500,000 and over. Households in that top wealth category had a mean of $1,590,075 in wealth in 2005, $1,585,441 in 2009 and $1,920,956 in 2011.

Ain’t no one in that 7% living on my block – or in my neighborhood for that matter. And I don’t begrudge anyone the money they earned. Last job I had before retiring I worked for a subcontractor and my specialties often found me working on McMansions. Easily 98% of those folks earned their money. Almost no trust-funders.

What pisses me off is the power their money has over our elected officials. Politics in America is deliberately guided by the almighty dollar. Politicians prefer it that way. Corporate lobbyists prefer it that way. The greed breed that’s stolen the mantle of what is now conservatism in America absolutely loves it.

So, we get screwed.

The Medicare “miracle” arrives as expected, on time

So, what do you think about those Medicare numbers? What, you haven’t heard about them? Well, they haven’t been front-page news. But something remarkable has been happening on the health-spending front, and it should (but probably won’t) transform a lot of our political debate…

…A funny thing has happened: Health spending has slowed sharply, and it’s already well below projections made just a few years ago. The falloff has been especially pronounced in Medicare, which is spending $1,000 less per beneficiary than the Congressional Budget Office projected just four years ago…

First, our supposed fiscal crisis has been postponed, perhaps indefinitely. The federal government is still running deficits, but they’re way down. True, the red ink is still likely to swell again in a few years, if only because more baby boomers will retire and start collecting benefits; but, these days, projections of federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. show it creeping up rather than soaring. We’ll probably have to raise more revenue eventually, but the long-term fiscal gap now looks much more manageable than the deficit scolds would have you believe.

Second, the slowdown in Medicare helps refute one common explanation of the health-cost slowdown: that it’s mainly the product of a depressed economy, and that spending will surge again once the economy recovers. That could explain low private spending, but Medicare is a government program, and shouldn’t be affected by the recession. In other words, the good news on health costs is for real…

But what accounts for this good news? The third big implication of the Medicare cost miracle is that everything the usual suspects have been saying about fiscal responsibility is wrong…

It turns out, however, that raising the Medicare age would hardly save any money. Meanwhile, Medicare is spending much less than expected, and those Obamacare cost-saving measures are at least part of the story. The conventional wisdom on what is and isn’t serious is completely wrong…

What’s the moral here? For years, pundits and politicians have insisted that guaranteed health care is an impossible dream, even though every other advanced country has it. Covering the uninsured was supposed to be unaffordable; Medicare as we know it was supposed to be unsustainable. But it turns out that incremental steps to improve incentives and reduce costs can achieve a lot, and covering the uninsured isn’t hard at all.

RTFA, wander through some of the details.

Please, understand that this nation is also capable of implementing the single-payer system that every sensible nation already has in place. Just like the sudden “solution” to a percentage of school loan debt – you don’t need a middleman to process the paperwork. Funneling compensation through insurance companies is like funneling government loans through banks. You only add a additional layer of profit on top of what’s necessary – to reward corporations for adding nothing of value.

China ready to spend $16 Billion on charging stations for electric cars

China is considering providing as much as $16 billion in government funding to build electric-vehicle charging facilities and spur demand for clean cars, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The policy will be announced soon, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. The people declined to provide further details of the plan such as how long the program would last or whether the chargers would be compatible with cars made by Tesla Motors…

Increased state funding would be a tailwind for carmakers coping with consumer concerns over the price, reliability and convenience of electric vehicles. It would also build on the tax breaks announced by China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, to fight pollution and cultivate its local EV industry, which includes BYD Co. and Kandi Technologies Group…

Among recent government initiatives, China will exempt new-energy vehicles — defined as electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles — from a purchase tax starting next month, and has ordered government departments to buy such vehicles for their official fleets.

Supporting a strategic and emerging industry like new-energy vehicles is a “win-win” for industrial development and environmental protection, the central government said last month in the statement announcing the waiver of the purchase tax. Developing new-energy autos is important for spurring innovation, promoting energy savings and reductions in emissions, and will help to drive domestic demand and nurture new avenues of growth, according to the notice.

Chinese governmental departments target a minimum of plug-in vehicles to 30% over the near term.

Let’s see. I’ll go peek at what the United States target is. Golly – a million EV’s on the road in another decade. Based on federal tax breaks for consumers.

There is a grouping of eight Democrat-dominated state legislatures collectively aiming for over three million electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids on the road in the same sort of timeframe. Triple the federal goal!

Oh, that’s right. There’s a clot of bought-and-sold politicians in the way of any such national spending. It’s called Congress. Stuffed full of cowards and decrepit ideologues.

Remember Hurricane Katrina


Click to enlarge

The ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is Friday (Aug. 29), and a handful of groups in the New Orleans area are planning theatrical events, rallies, benefits, days of service, and celebrations of recovery to mark the occasion.

Lots to remember. Especially since all the repairs, alterations and changes to poor and workingclass neighborhoods still ain’t complete.

Inequality and trending Web searches

credit luke shuman

In the hardest places to live in the United States, people spend a lot of time thinking about diets and religion. In the easiest places to live, people spend a lot of time thinking about cameras.

This summer, The Upshot conducted an analysis of every county in the country to determine which were the toughest places to live, based on an index of six factors including income, education and life expectancy. Afterward, we heard from Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, who suggested looking at how web searches differ on either end of our index.

The results, based on a decade of search data, offer a portrait of the very different subjects that occupy the thoughts of richer America and poorer America. They’re a glimpse into the id of our national inequality.

In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10…

In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images…

Beyond cameras, subjects popular in the easiest places include Baby Joggers, Baby Bjorns and baby massage; Skype and Apple devices like the iPod Nano; a piece of workout equipment known as a foam roller; and various foreign destinations (Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pyeongchang, the South Korean host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics). The phrase “pull-out” is also relatively popular in the easiest places. It presumably refers to either a kind of sofa or a kind of birth control.

…You can understand why religious web searches that are relatively more popular in places where life is harder have such a dark cast. “They are not just about religion but about apocalyptic religion,” notes Dan Silver, a cultural sociologist at the University of Toronto.

In the places on the other end of the spectrum, the picture is much brighter. People have disposable income to buy new technology and take faraway vacations. Their time spent prostrate on a foam roller or out running with the baby in a jogging stroller is more than enough to make up the occasional cupcake. And of course they are intent on passing down their way of life to the next generation, via Baby Bjorns and early access to technology.

RTFA for details and some analysis – including structure of the studies.

Most of all – I didn’t find anything surprising. Another one of those occasions when I wish my cynicism turned out to be wrong.

Thanks, Helen

Paul Krugman lectures the hawks who persist in crying wolf

According to a recent report in The Times, there is dissent at the Fed: “An increasingly vocal minority of Federal Reserve officials want the central bank to retreat more quickly” from its easy-money policies, which they warn run the risk of causing inflation. And this debate, we are told, is likely to dominate the big economic symposium currently underway in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

That may well be the case. But there’s something you should know: That “vocal minority” has been warning about soaring inflation more or less nonstop for six years. And the persistence of that obsession seems, to me, to be a more interesting and important story than the fact that the usual suspects are saying the usual things…

The Times article singles out for special mention Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, who is, indeed, warning about inflation risks. But you should know that he warned about the danger of rising inflation in 2008. He warned about it in 2009. He did the same in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He was wrong each time, but, undaunted, he’s now doing it again…

The point is that when you see people clinging to a view of the world in the teeth of the evidence, failing to reconsider their beliefs despite repeated prediction failures, you have to suspect that there are ulterior motives involved. So the interesting question is: What is it about crying “Inflation!” that makes it so appealing that people keep doing it despite having been wrong again and again?

Well, when economic myths persist, the explanation usually lies in politics — and, in particular, in class interests. There is not a shred of evidence that cutting tax rates on the wealthy boosts the economy, but there’s no mystery about why leading Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan keep claiming that lower taxes on the rich are the secret to growth. Claims that we face an imminent fiscal crisis, that America will turn into Greece any day now, similarly serve a useful purpose for those seeking to dismantle social programs…

But while easy money may in principle have mixed effects on the fortunes (literally) of the wealthy, in practice demands for tighter money despite high unemployment always come from the right. Eight decades ago, Friedrich Hayek warned against any attempt to mitigate the Great Depression via “the creation of artificial demand”; three years ago, Mr. Ryan all but accused Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman at the time, of seeking to “debase” the dollar. Inflation obsession is as closely associated with conservative politics as demands for lower taxes on capital gains.

It’s less clear why. But faith in the inability of government to do anything positive is a central tenet of the conservative creed. Carving out an exception for monetary policy — “Government is always the problem, not the solution, unless we’re talking about the Fed cutting interest rates to fight unemployment” — may just be too subtle a distinction to draw in an era when Republican politicians draw their economic ideas from Ayn Rand novels.

Which brings me back to the Fed, and the question of when to end easy-money policies…

But the last people you want to ask about appropriate policy are people who have been warning about inflation year after year. Not only have they been consistently wrong, they’ve staked out a position that, whether they know it or not, is essentially political rather than based on analysis. They should be listened to politely — good manners are always a virtue — then ignored.

Freshly-educated, modern economists completely ignore, wholly reject the crap that is economic dogma for Republicans. Whether they are social moderates or the more fascist-minded.

Another organic tie between modernists like Krugman and political progressives is dedication to the needs of the mass of American workers and their families. We are the real source of value created to make a cushy life for the one-percenters. We deserve more than a minimal safety net or education barely-sufficient to moderate an obedient class of producers.