/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Energy, Ignorance, Lies and Bullshit

By reading some of my posts on energy, you now understand that a modern society cannot exist without huge amounts of energy flowing through it day and night.  In fact, I have argued, the modern society fails if these energy flows diminish, just like a starved mammal becomes sick and eventually dies from lack of food.

Further, I have explained that almost all of your electricity and transportation fuels comes from fossil fuels, uranium, and water behind dams.  I showed graphically that renewables are but a small addition to our daily energy portfolio.

Finally, I compared the energy sources and energy use in two important U.S. states, Texas and California.  These states are perceived quite differently.  California's image is synonymous with progress and clean energy, while Texas is regarded as overly conservative, and prone to using fossil fuels.  Yet, as I demonstrated, electricity sources in these two states are not that much different, and Texas produces 1/3 more renewable electricity than California.  Fundamentally, California lives on imports and borrowed time, while Texas is self-sufficient in electricity and petroleum, while exporting plenty of natural gas and transportation fuels to the rest of U.S.

I think that 99% people in the U.S., when asked about energy and energy sources, would not arrive at conclusions similar to mine. In particular, almost everyone would significantly overestimate the role and potential of renewables, including wind, geothermal, biomass, biofuels, and photovoltaic panels and solar concentrators.  Most people would not think too much about the consequences of cutting off flows of certain types of energy, such as electricity from coal or uranium.  After all, we all know that electricity comes from the reliable outlets in our homes.
Why are energy facts so different from perceptions?
There is no simple answer to this question.  Human psychology and general lack of science education in the U.S. are the root causes of the discrepancy between what is and what we wish were. But there is more...

A famous philosopher from Princeton, Harry Frankfurt, described ignorance in this splendid little book.
The problem with ignorance and error is, of course, that they leave us in the dark. Lacking the truths that we require, we have nothing to guide us but our own feckless speculations or fantasies and the importunate and unreliable advice of others. As we plan our conduct, we can therefore do no better that to spin out uninformed guesses and, shakily, to hope for the best. We do not know where we are. We are flying blind.
On Truth, pages 60 - 61.

Add the quintessential American narcissism and arrogance to ignorance, and you have an explosive mixture that may yet lead to the downfall of our great country. Why do I think about Thomas Friedman when I am writing these words?  Maybe because of how he has been overselling "clean tech," a "hydrogen economy," and the renewables. And he is one of the best journalists we currently have.

Now on to the lies.  Again, Harry Frankfurt summarizes the corrosive influence of lies better than anyone else:
Lies are designed to damage our grasp of reality. So they are intended, in a very real way, to make us crazy. To the extent that we believe them, our minds are occupied by fictions, fantasies, and illusions that have been concocted for us by a liar. What we accept as real is a world that others cannot see, touch, or experience any other way.
On Truth, page 78.

OK, I admit that I almost never watch cable TV news channels. If you do, and your mind is not yet fried (like Dwayne Hoover's mind after reading the novel about free will and robots by  Kilgore Trout in the "Breakfast of Champions"), you will recognize that Harry's crystal clear description of liars fully applies, for example, to Fox's Murdochisms.  (Personally, I cannot watch Fox News for more than five minutes, because I get violent nausea and throw up.  It must be my not-so-fond memories of the similarly lying, corrupt, and hate-mongering communist propaganda.  There is a difference, however.  In the old communist Poland legally there was nothing but propaganda.  Here we have PBS, NPR, CSPAN, BBC, and a few internet choices.  So why would anyone voluntarily watch the fair and balanced Fox News?  Or MSNBC? Or that pitiful, irrelevant leftover of the once mighty news channel, CNN? Below you see a hint of an answer.)

"Something deeply insidious and corrupt is at work that has been on view in both Britain and the United States. It involves the takeover of politics by money and spin and massaged images and privileged coteries. It is the death of statesmanship." Roger Cohen, NYT,  Read more...

Bullshit is an intellectual analog of carelessly made, shoddy goods.  You might recognize here much of contemporary journalism.   Unlike a liar, a bullshitter has no relationship with truth.  He says whatever is convenient or expedient.  Sometimes what he says coincides with the truth, and sometimes it does not.

A shoddy journalist merely records whatever is fed to him/her, makes sure that the package looks attractive, and moves on to he next job.  Bullshit has been the bane of most reporting on "advanced biofuels." I would also say that much of the recent spate of articles on gas shales falls into the same category of bullshit.

Everyone knows a bullshitter or two.  I knew an outstanding one at Berkeley.  Whenever I confronted him about another lie or misrepresentation on the record, he would say: "I was misinterpreted," or "a journalist didn't understand what I meant."  Never mind that he could correct his statements when the same journalist submitted a transcript of an interview to him.

Charming bullshitters are very dangerous, because they can easily mislead us if we are not careful. These bullshitters usually end up in positions of power. Most people are not careful, and that's why we are where we are in the understanding of energy and other complex issues.

P.S. 7/24/2011. The recent murderous rampage of a Norwegian right-wing religious nut shows how lies and hatred can produce a really crazy person.  Remember Timothy McVeigh?  He was our own mega-nut of the same ilk.  Now please look back at the image above, stop, and reflect for a moment.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

California versus Texas - Fuel Consumption

In the previous post I compared electricity production and imports in California and Texas. I told you that renewables generate about the same fraction of electricity in both states. Texas produces all of its electricity, while California imports coal and gas - as electricity and for electricity generation - almost five days a week.

It is important for you to understand that California will need to import a lot of carbon as natural gas to continue "decarbonizing" its economy by, for example, switching to plug-in vehicles. Without all that extra carbon, California's economy will undergo a miracle slimming diet. Such are the laws of physics.

What I didn't tell you in the previous post is that roughly half of all natural gas in California is used to generate electricity. The residential sector uses 22 percent of the other half. Of that amount, 88 percent is used by space and water heating.  So, if there are problems with imports of natural gas to California, not only there will be blackouts, but also a lot of unrefrigerated raw food will have to be consumed in the cold houses.

Since 1970, the number of households in California has almost doubled from 6.5 million to 12.5 million, pushing total residential natural gas consumption from about 5.5 billion therms in 1970 to about 6.7 billion therms in 2007. However, thanks to the significant improvements of efficiency, the average annual gas consumption per household has dropped more than 36 percent, from 845 therms to 538 therms.
One therm equals 100,000 Btu or about 100 cubic feet of natural gas, or about 30 kilowatt hours (kWh) of heat. An average household in California uses therefore 1,300 kWh of natural gas heat per month; quite a lot.
What I also didn't tell you is that water is a significant source of embedded energy consumption in California.  In 2005, the total water-related energy use in the state was 48,000 GWh of electricity, and 4.2 billion therms of natural gas, i.e., 60% of the total residential use of natural gas. Pumping water to LA required, respectively, 19% of all electricity used in the state, and 32% of non-generational natural gas use. So, I guess, there may also be 15 million thirsty unwashed people in Southern California without the plentiful supply of natural gas.

But I digressed.  Let's talk about the use of liquid transportation fuels in California and Texas.

Click on the image above to see it in full size.
Californians drive a lot. They also use their special blends of gasoline that need to be produced in California. Californians are so dependent on their cars that a closing of a single freeway in L.A. for 53 hours has been termed a "carmageddon."

Click on the image above to see it in full size.
Hwy 405 sans traffic and people. This is how a completely decarbonized L.A. will look like. There is nothing wrong with this vision of the future, as long as the many fewer people who will live in the decarbonized L.A. will have water to drink and food to eat.  Image source: Associated Press.

Even during the current deep recession, California needs a steady supply of crude oil at a rate of 600,000 barrels per day, 7-days a week, 24 hours a day. Since California produces its own special brands of gasoline, imports of finished petroleum products are minimal. According to the California Energy Commission, in 2009, California produced enough crude oil to power its transportation each Monday through Wednesday 7:12 p.m. The rest of each Wednesday, and on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Californians drive on imported crude oil.

The crude oil imports to California are dominated by Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Iraq, with Mexico being a distant fourth supplier. In 2005, these main three oil suppliers delivered 71% of crude oil imports in California. Another important development has been the appearance of Angola, Brazil and Canada as the increasingly significant suppliers since 2005. California's oil sources are also the main suppliers of heavy, sour crudes to the Pacific Basin. For this reason, California competes directly with other Pacific Rim consumers, who have the ability to process these heavier crudes. In light of the growing oil consumption in China and China's political clout, California may not be able to compete well in a constrained oil-supply market.

Incidentally, the oil supply situation is quite different in Texas, the second most populous state in the U.S. on its way to eclipse California as the main economic driver of the U.S. economy. This will inevitably happen, unless the Republican extremists destroy Texas' growing public education and what's left of the already meager government services here. In fairness to Texas, however, California has already conducted a summary execution of her public education system, once an envy of the entire world. It is safe to say that California will never recover from this ugly execution and we in Texas should welcome as many of the dazed survivors as we can.

But I have digressed again. As of this writing, Texas produces essentially as much oil as it consumes,  1/4 of U.S. natural gas, and its refineries produce about 25% of U.S. supply of gasoline and other petroleum products.   Texas produces four times more energy as natural gas than as crude oil.  For the benefit of Mr. Urbina and others, Texas has plenty, plenty of natural gas for export to New York and Pennsylvania.
With the Great Recession of 2008-2030(?), demand for crude oil in California dropped by 60,000 barrels per day, to roughly 600,000 barrels of oil per day, the same rate of oil consumption as in 1982.  This is the good news.
Now the bad news. The number of days per year between 1982 and 2009, during which California gets its oil supply in-state, from Alaska, and from foreign imports. California's own oil production declined from 224 days of total supply in 1982 to 144 days in 2009. Imports from Alaska declined from 120 days in 1982 to a mere 55 days in 2009. Imports increased from 21 days in 1982 to 166 days in 2009. To put these numbers in perspective, in 2009, Californians were able to drive 2.8 days per week on the locally produced crude.

The ratio of oil equivalents consumed in Texas as finished petroleum products to the oil produced in Texas. This ratio was 1:7 in 1960 (Texas produced seven times more oil than it used), and it is just 1.1:1 today.  A small road tax on Hummers, Chevy Tahoes,  and so on, should bring this ratio to balance almost overnight.  Sources: Texas Railroad Commission, DOE EIA, accessed 10/25/2010.

On an energy basis, natural gas and natural gas liquids produced in Texas are about 4 times more important than all oil and 21 times more important than enhanced oil recovery (EOR) here. Note that the natural gas liquids in Texas are as important as the total oil production. Data sources: Oil & Gas Journal, US DOE EIA, and Texas Railroad Commission.

P.S. I thank the anonymous reader for the comment and I stand corrected. Here is the full list of foreign crude oil suppliers to California in 2010.  It is interesting that since 2007, Mexico has virtually stopped exporting oil because of the fast-declining production there. Angola was displaced by Russia and Colombia. Colombia is reaping benefits from a relative peace and a rational crude oil production policy, while the irrational Venezuela keeps on sinking.   

By the way, if you go to the California Energy Commission's website, it will take you some time to find the crude oil statistics. While searching for the shameful transportation fuels, you may treat yourself to reading up on many other more important subjects, such as the Bionenergy Action Plan. Reality check, anyone?