Internal Combustion Engine, Electric Motor, Fuel Economy, Emissions, Electric Range, Parallel Hybrid, Series Hybrid and Plug-In

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 5th, 2012

Technology 101

We started the First Cars with a Hand Crank and Nearly Broke an Arm if the Hand Crank Kicked Back

The king of car engines is the internal combustion engine (ICE).  We tried other motors such as a steam engine.  But a steam engine is a heat engine.  Meaning it first has to get hot enough to boil water into steam.  Which meant any trip in a car took a little extra time to bring the boiler up to operating temperatures.  Boilers tend to be big and heavy.  And dangerous.  Should something happen and a dangerous level of steam pressure built up they could explode.  Despite those drawbacks, though, a steam engine-powered car took you places.  And as long as there was fuel for the firebox and water for the boiler you could keep driving.

Another engine we tried was the electric motor.  These didn’t have any of the drawbacks of a steam engine.  You didn’t have to wait for a boiler to get to operating temperatures before driving.  Nothing was in danger of exploding.  An electric motor was lighter than a cast-iron boiler.  And an electric motor could make a car zip along.  However, an electric motor requires continuous electricity to operate.  Provided by charged batteries.  Which didn’t last long.  And took hours to recharge.  Giving the electric car limited range.  And little convenience.  For the heavier it was and/or the faster you went the faster you drained those batteries.  Which could be a problem taking the family on vacation.  But they worked well in a forklift on a loading dock.  Because of the battery-power they produced no emissions so they’re safe to use indoors.  They had limited auxiliary systems to run (other than a horn and maybe a light).  And when they were running low on charge you rarely needed to drive more than 20 or 30 feet to a charging station.

The first ICE-powered cars took some manly strength to operate.  They didn’t have power brakes, power steering, automatic transmissions or starters.  We started the first ICE-powered cars with a hand crank.  That took a lot of strength to turn.  And if it backfired while starting the kick of the handle could easily break a wrist or an arm.  Putting a damper on any Sunday afternoon drive.  This limited the spread of the automobile.  They were complex machines that required some strength to operate.  And they could be very dangerous.  Then along came the electric starter.  Which was an electric motor that spun the ICE to life.  Making the car much safer to start.  Expanding the popularity of the automobile.  For there was no longer a good chance that you could break your arm trying to start it.  And through the years came all those accessories making it easier and more comfortable to drive.  Today automatic transmissions, power steering, power brakes, headlights, interior lights, power locks, power windows, powered seats, a fairly decent audio system, heat, air conditioning and more are standard on most cars.  All effortless powered by that internal combustion engine.

Current Battery Technology does not give the All-Electric Car a Great Range

The reason why an ICE can do all of this is because gasoline is a very concentrated energy source.  It doesn’t take a lot of it to go a long way.  And it can accelerate you up a hill.  It even has the energy to pass someone on a hill. It’s a fuel source we can take with us.  A small amount of it stores conveniently and safely in a gas tank slung underneath a car.  And when it’s empty it takes very little time to refill.  A ten minute stop at a gas station and you’re back on the road able to drive another 500 miles or so.  Even in the dark of night with headlights blazing.  While keeping toasty warm in the winter.  Or comfortably cool in the summer.  Things an electric battery just can’t do.  So why would we even want to trade one for the other?  In a word—emissions.

The internal combustion engine pollutes.  The more fuel a car burns the more it pollutes.  So to cut pollution you try to make cars burn less fuel.  You increase the fuel economy.  And you can do that in a couple of ways.  You can cut the weight of the vehicle.  And put in a smaller engine.  Because a smaller engine can power a lighter car.  But a smaller car carries fewer people comfortably.  And can carry less stuff.  A motor cycle gets very good fuel economy but you can’t take the family on a Sunday drive on one.  And you can’t pack up your things on a motorcycle when going off to college.  So the tradeoff between fuel economy and weight has consequences.

An electric car does not pollute.  At all.  (Though the power plant that charges its batteries does pollute.  A lot.)  But current battery technology does not give the all-electric car a great range.  Typically coming in at less than 75 miles per charge.  Which is great if you’re operating a forklift on a loading dock.  But it’s pretty bad if you’re actually driving on a road going someplace.  And hope to return.  The heavier the car is the shorter that driving range.  If you want to use your headlights, heater or air conditioner it’ll be shorter still.  On top of this short range recharging your battery isn’t like stopping at the gas station for 10 minutes.  No.  What one typically does is pray that he or she gets home.  Then plugs in.  And by morning the car would be fully charge for another 75 miles or so of driving.

To Maximize the Benefit of a Hybrid you’d want to Carry the Absolute Minimum of Batteries to Serve your Needs

So all-electric cars are clean but they won’t really take us places.  The ICE-powered car will take us places but it’s not really clean.  Enter the gas/electric hybrid.  Which combines the best of the all-electric car (clean) and the best of the ICE-powered car (range).  There are a few varieties.  The parallel hybrid has both an ICE and an electric motor connected to a transmission that powers the wheels.  The ICE also drives a small generator.  Batteries power the electric motor.  And a gas tank feeds the ICE.  The generator keeps the batteries charged.  The battery powers the electric motor to accelerate the car from a stop.  After a certain speed the small ICE takes over.  When the car needs to accelerate the electric motor assists the ICE.  The small ICE has excellent fuel economy thus reducing emissions.  The electric motor/battery provides the additional horsepower when needed to compensate for an undersized ICE.  And the gasoline-powered engine provides extended range.

In addition to the parallel hybrid there is the series hybrid.  It has the same parts but they are connected differently.  The series hybrid is more like a diesel-electric locomotive.  Gasoline feeds the ICE.  The ICE drives a generator.  The generator charges the batteries and/or drives the electric motor.  The electric motor drives a transmission that spins the wheels.  This car drives on batteries until the charge runs out and then switches over to the ICE.  For short commutes this provides excellent fuel economy.  For longer drives (well over 75 miles or so) it’s more like a standard ICE-powered car with a roundabout way of turning the wheels.

Then there’s the plug-in variety.  In addition to all of the above you can plug your car into a charger to further save on gasoline use and reduce emissions (produced by the car; not by the electric power plant).  Letting you recharge the battery overnight in a standard 120V outlet.  In a slightly shorter time with a 240 volt outlet.  And quicker still in a 480 volt outlet.  If your commute to and from work is 50 miles or less you can probably charge up at home and not have to carry a charger with you (to convert the AC power to the DC power of the batteries).  Saving even more weight.  But if you plan on charging on the road you’ll need to carry a charger with you.  Adding additional weight.  Which will, of course, reduce your battery range.  Also, you can adjust the number of batteries to match your typical daily commute.  The shorter your commute the less charge you need to store.  Which lets you get by on fewer batteries.  Greatly reducing the weight of the car (and extending your battery range).  A gallon of gas weighs about 7 pounds and can take a car 30 miles or more.  You would need about 1,000 pounds of batteries to provide a similar range.  So range doesn’t come cheap.  To maximize the benefit of a hybrid you’d want to carry the absolute minimum of batteries to serve your needs.  Knowing that if you got a new job with a longer commute you could rely on the ICE in your hybrid to get you to work and back home safe again.

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Generator, Current, Voltage, Diesel Electric Locomotive, Traction Motors, Head-End Power, Jet, Refined Petroleum and Plug-in Hybrid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 6th, 2012

Technology 101

When the Engineer advances the Throttle to ‘Run 1’ there is a Surge of Current into the Traction Motors

Once when my father suffered a power outage at his home I helped him hook up his backup generator.  This was the first time he used it.  He had sized it to be large enough to run the air conditioner as Mom had health issues and didn’t breathe well in hot and humid weather.  This outage was in the middle of a hot, sweltering summer.  So they were eager to get the air conditioner running again.  Only one problem.  Although the generator was large enough to run the air conditioner, it was not large enough to start it.  The starting in-rush of current was too much for the generator.  The current surged and the voltage dropped as the generator was pushed beyond its operating limit.  Suffice it to say Mom suffered during that power outage.

Getting a diesel-electric locomotive moving is very similar.  The massive diesel engine turns a generator.  When the engineer advances the throttle to ‘Run 1’ (the first notch) there is a surge of current into the traction motors.  And a drop in voltage.  As the current moves through the rotor windings in the traction motors it creates an electrical field that fights with the stator electrical field.  Creating a tremendous amount of torque.  Which slowly begins to turn the wheels.  As the wheels begin to rotate less torque is required and the current decreases and voltage increases.  Then the engineer advances the throttle to ‘Run 2’ and the current to the traction motors increases again.  And the voltage falls again.  Until the train picks up more speed.  Then the current falls and the voltage rises.  And so on until the engineer advances the throttle all the way to ‘Run 8’ and the train is running at speed. 

The actual speed is controlled by the RPMs of the diesel engine and fuel flow to the cylinders. Which is what the engineer is doing by advancing the throttle.  In a passenger train there are additional power needs for the passenger cars.  Heating, cooling, lights, etc.  The locomotive typically provides this Head-End Power (HEP).  The General Electric Genesis Series I locomotive (the aerodynamic locomotive engines on the majority of Amtrak’s trains), for example, has a maximum of 800 kilowatts of HEP available.  But there is a tradeoff in traction power that moves the train towards its destination.  With a full HEP load a 4,250 horsepower rated engine can only produce 2,525 horsepower of traction power.  Or a decrease of about 41% in traction horsepower due to the heating, cooling, lighting, etc., requirements of the passenger cars.  But because passenger cars are so light they can still pull many of them with one engine.  Unlike their freight counterparts.  Where it can take a lashup of three engines or more to move a heavy freight train to its destination.  Without any HEP sapping traction horsepower.

There is so much Energy available in Refined Petroleum that we can carry Small Amounts that take us Great Distances

The largest cost of flying a passenger jet is jet fuel.  That’s why they make planes out of aluminum.  To make them light.  Airbus and Boeing are using ever more composite materials in their latest planes to reduce the weight further still.  New engine designs improve fuel economy.  Advances in engine design allow bigger and more powerful engines.  So 2 engines can do the work it took 4 engines to do a decade or more ago.  Fewer engines mean less weight.  And less fuel.  Making the plane lighter and more fuel efficient.  They measure all cargo and count people to determine the total weight of plane, cargo, passengers and fuel.  So the pilot can calculate the minimum amount of fuel to carry.  For the less fuel they carry the lighter the plane and the more fuel efficient it is.   During times of high fuel costs airlines charge extra for every extra pound you bring aboard.  To either dissuade you from bringing a lot of extra dead weight aboard.  Or to help pay the fuel cost for the extra weight when they can’t dissuade you.

It’s similar with cars.  To meet strict CAFE standards manufacturers have been aggressively trying to reduce the weight of their vehicles.  Using front-wheel drive on cars saved the excess weight of a drive shaft.  Unibody construction removed the heavy frame.  Aerodynamic designs reduced wind resistance.  Use of composite materials instead of metal reduced weight.  Shrinking the size of cars made them lighter.  Controlling the engine by a computer increased engine efficiencies and improved fuel economy.  Everywhere manufacturers can they have reduced the weight of cars and improved the efficiencies of the engine.  While still providing the creature comforts we enjoy in a car.  In particular heating and air conditioning.  All the while driving great distances on a weekend getaway to an amusement park.  Or a drive across the country on a summer vacation.  Or on a winter ski trip.

This is something trains, planes and automobiles share.  The ability to take you great distances in comfort.  And what makes this all possible?  One thing.  Refined petroleum.  There is so much energy available in refined petroleum that we can carry small amounts of it in our trains, planes and automobiles that will take us great distances.  Planes can fly halfway across the planet on one fill-up.  Trains can travel across numerous states on one fill-up.  A car can drive up to 6 hours or more doing 70 MPH on the interstate on one fill-up.  And keep you warm while doing it in the winter.  And cool in the summer.  For the engine cooling system transfers the wasted heat of the internal combustion engine to a heating core inside the passenger compartment to heat the car.  And another belt slung around an engine pulley drives an air conditioner compressor under the hood to cool the passenger compartment.  Thanks to that abundant energy in refined petroleum creating all the power under the hood we need.

The Opportunity Cost of the Plug-in Hybrid is giving up what the Car Originally gave us – Freedom 

And then there’s the plug-in hybrid car.  That shares some things in common with the train, plane and (gasoline-powered) automobile.  Only it doesn’t do anything as well.  Primarily because of the limited range of the battery.  Electric traction motors draw a lot of current.  But a battery’s storage capacity is limited.  Some batteries offer only about 20-30 miles of driving distance on a charge.  Which is great if you use a car for very, very short commutes.  But as few do manufacturers add a backup gasoline engine so the car can go almost as far as a gasoline-powered car.  It probably could go as far if it wasn’t for that heavy battery and generator it was dragging around with it.

This is but one of many tradeoffs required in a plug-in hybrid car.  Most of these cars are tiny to make them as light as possible.  For the lighter the car is the less current it takes to get it moving.  But adding a backup gasoline engine and generator only makes the car heavier.  Thus reducing its electric range.  Making it more like a conventional car for a trip longer than 20-30 miles.  Only one that gets a poorer fuel economy.  Because of the extra weight of the battery and generator.  Manufacturers have even addressed this problem by reducing the range of the car.  If people don’t drive more than 10 miles on a typical trip they don’t need such a large battery.  Which is ideal if you use your car to go no further than you normally walk.  A smaller battery means less weight due to the lesser storage capacity required to travel that lesser range.  Another tradeoff is the heating and cooling of the car.  Without a gasoline engine on all of the time these cars have to use electric heat.  And an electric motor to drive the air conditioner compressor.  (Some heating and cooling systems will operate when the car is plugged in to conserve battery charge for the initial climate adjustment).  So in the heat of summer and the cold of winter you can scratch off another 20% of your electric range (bringing that 20 miles down to 16 miles).  Not as bad as on a passenger locomotive.  But with its large tanks of diesel fuel that train can still take you across the country.

The opportunity cost of the plug-in hybrid is giving up what the car originally gave us.  Freedom.  To get out on the open road just to see where it would take us.  For if you drive a long commute or like to take long trips your hybrid is just going to be using the backup gasoline engine for most of that driving.  While dragging around a lot of excess weight.  To make up for some lost fuel economy some manufacturers use a gasoline engine with high compression.  Unfortunately, high compression engines require the more expensive premium (higher octane) gasoline.  Which costs more at the pump.  There eventually comes the point we should ask ourselves why bother?  Wouldn’t life and driving be so much simpler with a gasoline-powered car?  Get fuel economy with a range of over 300 miles?  Guess it all depends on what’s more important.  Being sensible.  Or showing others that you’re saving the planet.

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GM and Ford pursuing Carbon Fiber to Improve Fuel Efficiency and Increase Profits

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Ford and GM following the lead of Airbus and Boeing.  Using composite materials to make their vehicles lighter.  And more fuel efficient.  For as Airbus and Boeing have proven, improved fuel efficiency during times of high fuel costs leads to more unit sales (see Ford, Dow to explore carbon fiber use in vehicles by Deepa Seetharaman posted 4/12/2012 on Reuters).

Ford Motor Co and Dow Chemical Co will work to develop cost-effective ways of using carbon fiber in high-volume cars and trucks as the No.2 U.S. automaker moves to cut vehicle weight to improve overall fuel economy…

Weight reduction is one way for automakers to boost the efficiency of their fleets in anticipation of rising oil prices and stricter fuel economy standards for upcoming model years…

Using carbon fiber in lieu of conventional steel can lower the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.

Carbon fiber, already used in racing cars and products like hockey sticks, is not new to the auto industry. BMW (BMWG.DE), for example, uses the material in its M3 coupe.

Yet carbon fiber’s high cost has blocked its wide-scale use. Industry experts say one way to lower the overall cost of carbon fiber is to find cheaper ways of preparing those materials…

Last month, the Obama administration announced it would provide $14.2 million in funding to spur development of stronger and lighter materials.

Really?  The government needs to fund this with subsidies?  You mean there is no incentive for automakers to make their cars lighter?  I think there is.  If they can make a car lighter without shrinking it down to something slightly larger than a shoe box they will improve fuel economy.  And increase sales.  For what family would not want to buy a fuel efficient car that lets them pack the family in it and take it on vacation?  Letting them take longer trips because the cost of gasoline doesn’t eat up the family vacation budget?  Or let families spend more on their grocery bill rather than on gasoline?  To enjoy more cookouts during their summer vacation?  One thing for certain is that if you can produce a more fuel efficient car that doesn’t trade anything else to get that efficiency (size, range, etc.), people will run to buy it.  And that is what we call incentive.

GM revenue in 2011 was $150.3 billion alone.  So Ford and GM are not doing this to get their hands on that piddling $14.2 million in federal money.  Which was about 0.01% of GM’s total revenue in 2011.  Which is little more than a rounding error.  They’re doing this to increase their market share in an increasingly competitive market.  In 2011 GM, Ford and Chrysler had global market shares of 8%, 8% and 3%, respectively.  If you divide GM’s revenue by 8 that comes to about $18.8 billion in revenue per percentage point.  Which is one heck of an incentive to increase unit sales to get just one more percentage point in market share.  And during times of high fuel costs one way to do that is to make a car cheaper to own by making it more fuel efficient.  That’s why they’re pouring money into carbon fiber technology.  Not because the government is offering what amounts to loose change under the sofa cushions as far as GM is concerned.  Because fuel efficiency equals higher market share when gasoline is expensive.  And market share equals higher revenue.  And profits.

Yes, it’s greed that’s making Ford and GM pursue carbon fiber to increase fuel efficiency.  Which is the best reason.  Because greed requires no government subsidies.

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Increasing oil supplies won’t lower gas prices only reducing U.S. demand can according to Obama and the AP

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2012

Week in Review

On the one hand gas prices aren’t high (see Rising gas prices aren’t as bad as you think).  On the other hand they are.  But there’s nothing the president can do about it so quit your bitching (see FACT CHECK: More US Drilling Didn’t Drop Gas Price [Higher fuel economy won’t lower gas prices according to AP] by JACK GILLUM and SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press, posted 3/21/2012 on ABC News).

U.S. oil production is back to the same level it was in March 2003, when gas cost $2.10 per gallon when adjusted for inflation. But that’s not what prices are now.

That’s because oil is a global commodity and U.S. production has only a tiny influence on supply. Factors far beyond the control of a nation or a president dictate the price of gasoline.

Funny.  When the stimulus failed it was the stimulus wasn’t big enough.  But when we only increase oil supplies a little and it doesn’t influence the world price of oil they don’t say the increase in supply wasn’t big enough.

The late 1980s and 1990s show exactly how domestic drilling is not related to gas prices.

Seasonally adjusted U.S. oil production dropped steadily from February 1986 until three years ago. But starting in March 1986, inflation-adjusted gas prices fell below the $2-a-gallon mark and stayed there for most of the rest of the 1980s and 1990s. Production between 1986 and 1999 dropped by nearly one-third. If the drill-now theory were correct, prices should have soared. Instead they went down by nearly a dollar.

Figures don’t lie but liars figure.  Talk about twisting the facts to support your Democrat president.  For what they say the data doesn’t support the data DOES support during the previous decade.  Following the 1973 Oil Crisis.  When OPEC placed an embargo on oil shipments to the U.S. and other Western nations that helped Israel in the Yom Kippur War.  Oil prices soared.  Bringing a lot of non-OPEC producers into the market.  To cash in on those high prices.  And while they were increasing oil production from the mid-Seventies to the mid-Eighties they flooded the market with oil.  Which also coincided with a reduction in demand in the U.S.  Who switched from gas-guzzlers to little cars with ‘sewing machine’ engines.  Tiny four cylinder engines.  This explosion in supply and reduction in demand caused the 1980s oil glut.  Causing oil prices to plummet.  Which kept gas prices low throughout the 1980s oil glut.

So when oil supply goes up gas prices come down.  In the 1980s that increase in oil supply came from outside of the U.S.  But it lowered gas prices nonetheless.  If an increase in U.S. production can match the increase of the non-OPEC producers during the Eighties then gas prices will come down, too.  But NOT increasing oil production will only increase gas prices in the face of increasing oil demand.

Unlike natural gas or electricity, the United States alone does not have the power to change the supply-and-demand equation in the world oil market, said Christopher Knittel, a professor of energy economics at MIT. American oil production is about 11 percent of the world’s output, so even if the U.S. were to increase its oil production by 50 percent — that is more than drilling in the Arctic, increased public-lands and offshore drilling, and the Canadian pipeline would provide — it would at most cut gas prices by 10 percent.

By this logic then there’s no point in trying to improve fuel economy.  Yet we do.  For when it comes to gasoline everything on the demand side of the equation can lower gas prices.  But nothing on the supply side can.  President Obama says we can inflate our tires.  Get a tune up.  Increase CAFE standards (force auto makers to increase the miles per gallon their cars can get).  Move into electric cars and hybrids.  If we do any of these we can bring down the price of gasoline.  But if we flood the market with new domestic oil it won’t do jack squat.  Go figure.

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FT110: “You can’t blame our dependence on foreign oil for high gas prices AND say that producing more domestic oil won’t lower gas prices.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Combination of Low Demand and High Supply caused Oil Prices to Fall over 70% by 1986

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a cartel.  Made up currently of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.  Their purpose is to set oil quotas for their oil-producing members.  To limit the amount of oil they bring to market.  To reduce supply.  And increase oil prices.  At least that’s the idea.  It’s been hard to keep the individual OPEC members from cheating, though.  And a lot do.  Often selling more than their quota.  Because when oil prices are high selling a few percentages above their quota can be very profitable.  Unless everyone else does so as well.  Which they usually do.  For their choice is either not to cheat and not share in any of those ‘excess’ profits (beyond their agreed to quota).  Or cheat, too.  Thereby increasing supply.  And lowering oil prices.  Not something any oil producer wants to do.  But it’s the only way to share in any of those ‘excess’ profits.

But that’s not the only problem OPEC has.  There are a lot of oil producers who aren’t members of OPEC.  Who can bring oil to market in any quantity they choose.  Especially when they see the high price OPEC is charging.  OPEC’s high price allows non-OPEC suppliers to sell a lot of oil at a slightly lower price and reap huge profits.  Which puts pressure on the OPEC target price.  Forcing them to lower their target price.  For if they don’t lower their price they will lose oil sales to those non-OPEC producers.  Which is exactly what happened in the late Seventies.  While OPEC was cutting back on production (to raise prices) the non-OPEC nations were increasing production.  And taking over market share with their lower prices.  Causing OPEC to reverse policy and increase production during the mid-Eighties.  Giving us the 1980s oil glut.

Of course, this rise in non-OPEC production was a direct result of the 1973 Oil Crisis.  Many of the OPEC members are Muslim nations.  Who don’t like the state of Israel.  In response to the West’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War (1973) OPEC announced an oil embargo on those nations who helped Israel.  Giving us the 1973 oil crisis.  Where this sudden reduction in supply caused the price of oil to soar.  Making the oil business a very profitable business.  Causing those non-OPEC producers to enter the market.  Then the Iranian Revolution (1979) disrupted Iranian crude production.  Keeping Iranian oil off the market.  This reduction in demand caused oil prices to rise.  Then Jimmy Carter broke off diplomatic relations with the Iranian state.  And boycotted their oil when it returned to the market.  Further encouraging the non-OPEC producers to bring more oil to market.  Meanwhile U.S. demand fell because of those high prices.  And our switch to smaller, 4-cyclinder, front wheel drive cars.  Saying goodbye to our beloved muscle cars of the Sixties and Seventies.  And the V-8 engine.  The combination of low demand and high supply caused oil prices to fall over 70% by 1986.  Giving us the oil glut of the 1980s.  When gasoline was cheap.  Enticing the V-8 engine back into the market.

Improved Fuel Economy AND Increased Oil Supplies can Reduce the Price at the Pump

So, yes, Virginia.  The amount of oil entering the market matters.  The more of it there is the cheaper it will be.  As history has shown.  When less oil entered the market prices rose.  When more oil entered the market prices fell.  And anything that can affect the supply of oil making it to market will affect the price of oil.  (And everything downstream of oil.  Jet fuel.  Diesel.  And gasoline.)  Wars.  Regional instability.  And governmental regulation. 

So what are things that will bring more oil to market?  Well there’s the obvious.  You drill for more oil.  This is so obvious but a lot of people refuse to accept this economic principle.  As supply increases prices fall.  The 1980s oil glut proved this.  Even John Maynard Keynes has graphs showing this in his Keynesian economics.  The economics of choice for governments everywhere.   Yet there are Keynesian politicians who avert their eyes to this economic principle.  So there’s that.  More drilling.  You can also make the permitting process easier to drill for oil.  You can open up federal lands currently closed to drilling.  And once you find oil you bring it to market.  As quickly as you can.  And few things are quicker than pipelines.  From the oil fields.  To the oil refineries.  (And then jet fuel, diesel and gasoline pipelines from the refineries to dispensing centers).  So before oil fields are ready to produce you start building pipelines from those fields to the refineries.  Or you build new refineries.

Improving fuel economy did help reduce our demand for imported oil in the Eighties.  As well as lowered the price for that imported oil.  But it wasn’t fuel economy alone.  The non-OPEC nations were increasing production from the mid-Seventies through the mid-Eighties.  Without that oil flooding the market oil prices wouldn’t have fallen 70%.  And they won’t fall again if we ONLY try to reduce our demand for foreign oil.  For reducing demand is marginal at best in reducing oil prices. 

Only if we Drill and Build Pipelines can we Reduce the Price at the Pump

For there are no electric airplanes.  The cost to electrify all railroad tracks is too prohibitive to consider.  The capital costs to build that electrical infrastructure.  The maintenance costs to maintain it.  And the electricity costs from the increased demand for electrical power while supply remains the same.  Or falls.  Because excessive regulation inhibits the building of new power plants.  And speeds up the shutdown of older plants.  Especially coal-fired because they pollute too much.  And hydro power.  Because of the environmental impact of dams.  Severely straining our electric grids.  And moving into electric cars will stress our electric grids even further.  Leading to brown outs.  And rolling blackouts.   Or worse.  Causing wires to overheat and sag, coming into contact with trees.  Shorting out.  Causing cascading blackouts as power plants disconnect from the grid to prevent damage from the resulting current surges.  Like they did in the Northeast Blackout of 2003.

You can’t replace oil with electricity.  In some cases there is just no electric equivalent.  Such as the airplane.  Or the cost of moving from oil to electricity is just prohibitive.  Such as updating the nation’s electrical infrastructure to meet an exploding demand.  Which leaves oil.  We need it.  And will keep using it.  Because there is no better alternative.  Yet.  So we need to produce it.  And do everything we can to help bring that oil to market.  Not fight against it.  And it all starts with drilling. 

We must drill.  Bring that oil up from under the ground.  Put it into a pipeline.  And pump it to a refinery.  If we do this enough we will be less dependent on foreign oil.  And have more control over the price at the pump.

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The Demand for an ever Higher Fuel Economy has decreased the demand for Gasoline and raised Gas Prices

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2012

Week in Review

A Republican congressman complains about the high price of gasoline.  But because he’s a Republican AND drives a Hummer he gets little sympathy (see Florida congressman upset at Obama for $70 fill-up of his Hummer by Justin Hyde posted 2/23/2012 on Yahoo! Autos).

Saying gas costs too much based on your H3 — which sports an average fuel economy of 16 to 18 mpg — seems akin to arguing Americans have grown too fat at the drive-through window of a Carl Jr.’s. Yet West and other drivers can’t be blamed for the current run-up; it’s not American demand for gasoline causing its prices to rise, but rather demand from China, Latin America and worries over Iran’s actions near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, fossil fuels were America’s biggest export — partly because of the economic recession and the shift toward vehicles that get 40 mpg instead of 16.

Sad, isn’t it?  China and Latin America can enjoy life.  But the country that made driving the great American past time can’t.  Over there they’re buying gas and enjoying it.  Over here we make people feel ashamed for doing something their parents loved to do.  Packing the family into a big and safe vehicle.  Hitting the open road.  And seeing America.

Well, if it’s any consolation just think about this.  While we scrunch into our commuter mobiles that can fit 2 adults almost comfortably the Chinese communists are now living the American dream in China.  Enjoying the freedom and adventure gasoline gives you.  Who knows, perhaps they’ll be buying recreational vehicles in their retirement.  Spending their golden years seeing their country.  Like we once did here.  Visiting their family.  And camping out at parks and campgrounds.  Enjoying their retirement.  Something few can do now thanks to the high price of gasoline.

There’s a lot the government can do to fix this.  They can STOP doing everything that hinders the oil industry and stop equating gasoline to a drug addiction.  Let the market set the prices.  Let supply flow in to meet market demand.  And let us drive what we want to drive.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #57: “Environmental policy is a zero-sum policy; save the planet, kill man.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 15th, 2011

What do Cows and Dinosaurs have in Common?  They’re both a little Gassy.

Bovine flatulence contributes to global warming.  That’s a theory at least.  Cows fart.  It’s a byproduct of the digestion process.  Like with people.  As things break down chemical things happen.  It releases nutrients.  And gas.  Methane.  Until nothing is left but solid waste.  The nutrients help other things grow (people, animals, plants, etc.).  And the gas just dissipates into the atmosphere.  Or annoys your significant other when you do it under the covers.  We poop the solid waste.  As do cows.

But farts aren’t just fun and games.  Because the chemical compound for methane is CH4.  That’s one Carbon atom and four Hydrogen atoms.  In other words, methane is a hydrocarbon.  As in carbon footprint.  Yes, that’s right, methane is a greenhouse gas.  And cows are indiscriminately farting it out like there’s no tomorrow.  And the larger the human population gets, the more cows we raise for food.  Which means more cows are farting.  Which creates more greenhouse gases.  Which leads to more global warming.

So you can see it’s a problem.  All this farting.  I mean, it’s one of the theories why the dinosaurs went extinct.  Dinosaur farts.  Of course this raises an interesting point.  Currently, man is causing global warming by raising more and more cows to feed our growing population.  Among other things.  Man wasn’t around for the dinosaurs, though.  They killed themselves off without any help from man.  Which can mean only one thing.  That global warming predated man.  Or the dinosaur theory is a silly theory.

It’s Man or the Environment

So while smug environmentalists may enjoy the smell of their own farts, they want to cut back on bovine flatulence.  And the easiest way to do that is to just have fewer cows.  Reduce the food supply.  And gamble with our lives with that smaller food supply.  That’s because they worry about the planet today.  They don’t care what happened in the past.  Whether dinosaurs raised the earth’s temperature more than man has ever done.  Or that there were ice ages.  And that those ice ages ended.  Without man’s help.

Once upon a time the glaciers covered a lot more of the earth than they do today.  And when they last melted there were no man-made greenhouse gases.  Except maybe a camp fire or two.  And the occasional fart.  Man did less than at any other time in his existence to warm the planet.  Yet the planet warmed.  So much so that the glaciers moved farther than they have in the last 2,000 years of man’s existence.  Something warmed the planet back then.  And it sure wasn’t man.

But today it is only man who is responsible for global warming.  With his man-made greenhouse gases.  From our polluting industries.  Or from the cows we raise to eat.  Man has been the curse of this fair planet.  And the more advanced he got the greater his environmental destruction has been.  In fact, the environmentalist will say that the world was a better place before man came along to spoil it.  And a lot of what they do today tries to right this great wrong. 

Bigger, Heavier and Safer or Fuel Economy

Engineering is a balance between tradeoffs.  Take cars, for example.  There are two driving features of cars these days.  Safety.  And fuel economy.  They’ve made a lot of safety innovations in the last few decades.  Seatbelts.  Crumble zones.  Airbags.  Telescoping steering wheels.  And the list goes on.  And we added a lot of these because of that other feature.  Fuel economy.  To get better gas mileage we made cars smaller.  And lighter.  And a smaller and lighter car does not fare well in an accident with a bigger and heavier car or truck.  So the tradeoff between fuel economy and safety really became a tradeoff between fuel economy and people.

The environmentalist is okay with this.  In fact, they added to this tradeoff.  With the emissions equipment they want.  Catalytic converter.  Secondary air injection.  Evaporative emissions control.  Etc.  Pop the hood on a car today and much of what you see is for emissions control.  More equipment added to the car.  Some of which is belt-driven.  Increasing the car weight.  And the engine load.  Requiring weight reductions elsewhere to meet required CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations.  Thus making cars less survivable in accidents.

Some will argue, though, that cars are safer today than when they were all big and heavy.  Well, yes, cars are safer today compared to the bigger and heavier cars we used to drive.  But if you put seatbelts and airbags into those bigger and heavier cars, they would be safer than the cars today.  How do we know that?  Because we have cars today that are a lot like those bigger and heavier cars of yesteryear.  We call them SUVs.  And they are very popular.  Especially with parents who have kids to drive around.  Because they are bigger and heavier and safer.  And parents are more than willing to spend a little more in gas to drive those big honking things around to protect their kids.

From Global Cooling to Global Warming

But there are other tradeoffs besides fuel economy and people.  There’s the tradeoff between energy and people.  As populations grow they need more energy.  The energy of choice is electricity.  Produced by power plants that burn fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas).  Fossil fuels are, of course, hydrocarbons.  Those poor, hated, misunderstood hydrocarbons.  When we burn these to make electricity we create greenhouse gases.  And you know what that does?  That’s right.  Global warming.  At least, that’s what the environmentalists tell us.

There was another alternative.  Nuclear power.  It’s clean.  But there was a big problem with that.  A movie.  The China Syndrome.  And then Three Mile Island.  Both in 1979.  A growing nuclear power industry came to a screeching halt.  And we haven’t built another nuclear plant since.  The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island released a negligible about of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.  But the safety features worked as designed.  There was no China Syndrome.  But there was a movie.  And that was enough.  Nuclear power became the redheaded stepchild of energy generation.

There wasn’t a lot of talk about global warming in 1979.  Back then we were still talking about global cooling and the approaching ice age.  Then things changed.  The Nineties were all about global warming.  So not only did we shut down the nuclear industry, they so attacked fossil fuels that opening a new power plant was a regulatory nightmare.  So by the end of that decade our energy demands were taxing our energy supply.  Blackouts were becoming more and more common.  The elderly and infirmed suffered during these power outages.  Some died from heat stroke because there was no air conditioning.  With no escape from the heat there was other trouble.  Hot temperatures created hot tempers.  Often resulting in violence.  Looting.  And murder.

The Smug and Pretentious

The theory of global warming is a theory.  And not a very good one at that.  As those emails leaked from the University of East Anglia clearly showed (they were massaging the data to support the theory).  And making policy based on this theory has consequences.  It has altered the free market.  Regulated our lives.  Reduced our liberty.  And killed people.

No surprise, really.  Because environmentalists hate man and his impact on the planet.  So a few deaths along the way is a small price to pay.  And it thins out the herd of some of the less desirable.  Those who drive.  And energy hogs who use air conditioning.  But the environmentalist will live in his air conditioned ocean-side mansion (Al Gore).  But that’s okay.  Because some people have to show the way for the rest of us.  Not by example.  But by telling us how to live our lives.  Because caring is enough for them.  Makes them special.  Better than us.  So these smug and pretentious can sit back and enjoy their big carbon footprints.  And spend their days enjoying the smell of their own farts. 

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #29: “The problem with doing what is best for the common good is that few can agree on what the common good is.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 31st, 2010

CHOOSING IS EASY WHEN ONLY ONE IS CHOOSING

Lunch groups can be a pain in the you-know-what.  Ass.  I mean, if you’re hungry, you can go and eat whatever you want.  If you want pasta you can eat pasta.  But if you’re dragging 3 others with you, there’s a chance at least one of them doesn’t want pasta.  He or she may want Thai.  And be the only one who wants Thai.  Another may be trying to lose weight and wants a healthy vegetable sub.  Which may be the last thing someone wants if they have their heart set on a good, juicy piece of dead cow.

So you know what happens.  You don’t have pasta, Thai, the sub shop or the steakhouse.  You end up going to that greasy diner that smells like an old, unwashed ashtray.  The food’s not that bad and they have a huge menu.  Which never ceases to amaze you.  And worries you.  Just a little.  (You know they’re not selling broiled haddock every day and you wonder just how long it’s been in the freezer.)  There’s something for everyone.  It may not be the best.  No one is particularly happy with the choice.   But it was the best compromise everyone could agree to. 

Picking a movie can be just as fun.  “What do you want to see?”  “I don’t care.  What do you want to see?”  And this can go on and on.  And on.  An action thriller?  Too violent.  A romantic comedy?  Too sappy.  That r-rated comedy?  Too many boobs.  That 3-hour movie that’s like Steel Magnolias only sadder?  I can sleep at home for a hell of a lot less. 

And round and round you go.  Finally, you settle on a compromise.  Great Moments in Opera History – a film of a live performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto that includes some nudity.  There’s singing, a sad story, some comedy, a tragic ending and, of course, boobs.  No one was bursting with anticipation to see this movie.   No one is particularly happy with the choice.   But it was the best compromise everyone could agree to. 

When you’re deciding for one, you only have to please yourself.  The more people involved with the decision-making process, the less you please yourself and the more you try to please others.  Key word being ‘try’.  Because the more people in the decision-making process, the less likely anyone is going to be pleased.

E PLURIBUS UNUM (OUT OF MANY, ONE)

They call America the melting pot.  Canada is a mosaic, but we’re a melting pot.  America became a mixture of the different immigrants that came to this country.  These people assimilated into being Americans.  People with different nationalities and religions melted together and made a singular national identity.  Out of many, one.  (In Canada, there’s no melting.  Hence the mosaic.  And no singular national identity.)

Many say our diversity is our strength.  We’re not conformists.  Just look at the explosion in television channels.  We’re so diverse that we can’t agree on what to watch on TV.  So there are hundreds of channels to choose from.  To satisfy our very different tastes and interests.

We like different things.  Television shows, restaurants, movies, books, newspapers and blogs.  To name just a few.  There is, in fact, little that we really agree about.  Other than agreeing we should be able to enjoy the things we wish to enjoy.  And not be forced to endure the things we don’t.  Mosaic or melting pot, however you want to look at it, individuals make up the whole.  Persons with individual tastes and interests.  With individual hopes and dreams.

WHO’S TO SAY WHAT’S BEST?

Now put the two together and what do you get?  A lot of people who don’t agree with each other trying to agree with each other.  It’s sort of like drawing a square circle.  You can’t do it.  Now take that group and ask them to make a decision for the common good.

Sounds easy, right?  Most are willing to sacrifice a little.  If it’s for the common good.  We just need to list the things that everyone would agree are important for the common good.  Like better fuel economy in our cars to reduce pollution and our dependence on foreign oil.  Or making cars safer so people get hurt less in accidents.  Both of these appear to be for the common good.  But they also conflict with each other.  More of one means less of the other.  Little boxes with sewing-machine engines will give great fuel economy.  But they can get blown off bridges (like that Yugo that blew off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989) and don’t fare well when struck by an 18-wheel truck. 

Which is the greater good?  It depends on your definition of the greater good.  Which is, must be, subjective.  Big, heavy cars are safe.  Light, little cars have good fuel economy.  Some people so hate the internal combustion engine that a rise in highway fatalities is acceptable to them.  Others would rather give up a few MPGs for a safer car for their family.  These people aren’t likely to agree.  They’re probably not all that willing to compromise either.  For, unlike the lunch group, there’s no real motivation to get along with each other.

Now multiply this by thousands of other issues.  More arts funding.  A stronger military.  Stem cell research.  Lower taxes.  The Decriminalization of drugs.  Better border security.  Abortion.  AIDS research.  High-speed rail.  Etc.  Each of these has strong proponents.  And hefty price tags.  Or provoke bitter social/moral/ethical debate.  Can we agree which of these is the greater good?  Ask 10 of your family, friends and coworkers and find out.

SHARED SACRIFICE

Getting people to agree that we should do what’s best for the common good is easy.  Getting those same people to agree on exactly what that common good is, well, is impossible.  We’re too many people with too many diverse interests.  I know what’s best for me.  But how does my neighbor know what’s best for me?  And how do I know what’s best for him?  We can’t.  And the more we try the more we must settle for something less. 

When we start deciding for others, some will have to sacrifice for the greater good.  But that’s okay.  Because everyone is for ‘shared’ sacrifice.  If it’s for the common good.  As long someone else’s share of sacrifice is bigger than yours, that is.

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