'At the Mercy of this Goddamn Spaceship'

The Wall Street Journal recently featured an amusing article entitled, "I Rented an Electric Car for a Four-Day Road Trip. I Spent More Time Charging It Than I Did Sleeping." The title more or less speaks for itself -- reporter Rachel Wolfe rented a brand-new Kia EV6, loaded her friend Mack into the car, and set off on a road trip from New Orleans to Chicago and back, a "2,000-mile trip in just under four days" so Mack could make it back in time for work.

She thought it would be a fun adventure, but in reality their desperate search for E.V. charging stations along the way, coupled with the extreme length of time it took to actually charge the car, undercut the thrill of the open road.

The main "pro" of her E.V. experience was cost. Though, Wolfe explains, "cost varies widely based on factors such as local electricity prices and charger brands," she estimates that her trip would have cost about $275 if she'd been driving a car with a gasoline powered engine, whereas she spent $175 total for her E.V. trip.

"Dear Diary..."

There are several reasons for this price disparity, including one Wolfe mentions herself -- "some businesses offer free juice as a perk to existing customers or to entice drivers to come inside while they wait." The cash spent on impulse buying as you wait for hours for your car to charge doesn't technically come out of your fuel budget, but it might as well.

The more important difference, though, is one of supply and demand. Fossil fuels are stretched particularly thin at the moment, and the tight supply has to both fuel the vast majority of vehicles on the road and generate most of the electricity fueling E.V.s (among other things). But the incongruity between the point-of-delivery price of gasoline and electricity isn't scalable. The more people owning and driving E.V.s, the more expensive it will become to charge them.

And then there is the main "con." Wolfe had "plotted a meticulous route" from one charging station to another, with their car's advertised range of 310 miles always in mind, planning to use thirty minute "fast chargers" twice per day and then eight-hour "Level 2" charges at their hotels overnight. The plan was straightforward, but the reality was not.

Right from the start they found that the car battery's charge was unpredictable -- on the first morning it "tick[ed] down 15 percent over 35 miles" and then the "quick charge" top up they wanted to do so that they would hit the road with a full battery ended up taking an hour instead of the estimated five minutes.

Eventually they make it to a Kia dealership in Meridian, Miss., where no one seems to know how to use the fast charger on site, and when they finally get it hooked up, the dashboard computer informs them that "a full charge, from 18 percent to 100 percent," will take them more than three hours. Wolfe explains:

It turns out not all “fast chargers” live up to the name. The biggest variable, according to State of Charge, is how many kilowatts a unit can churn out in an hour. To be considered “fast,” a charger must be capable of about 24 kW. The fastest chargers can pump out up to 350. Our charger in Meridian claims to meet that standard, but it has trouble cracking 20.

Are we there yet?

Once they make it to Chicago, Wolfe figures that they've mastered E.V.s and predicts that the return journey will be uneventful. “Don’t say that!” [Mack] says. “We’re at the mercy of this goddamn spaceship!” Boy was she ever right -- the drive back was, if anything, even more stressful, with continual “Charge, Urgently!” warnings as they power down everything in the car in the hopes of making it to the next charging station on "electric fumes." They discover, rather too late, that E.V. batteries do worse on the highways, since they're designed to draw some charge from the energy generated by slowing down.

Ultimately they make it home in time... barely. "The following week," says Wolfe, "I fill up my Jetta at a local Shell station. Gas is up to $4.08 a gallon. I inhale deeply. Fumes never smelled so sweet." Expect more and more people to come to that realization, sooner than you think.

Chasing the Future by Slow Train

San Francisco in recent years has become an advance warning for the collapse of city government, urban life, and even of civilization itself. Now it seems that “a survey of electric vehicle (E.V.) charging stations in the San Francisco area has discovered that about one in four don’t work.” It’s no surprise, of course, that some of the urban infrastructure of San Francisco might not be in the best of shape.

At the same time, California used to think of itself until very recently as the future of America and even of the world—the harbinger of innovative technologies that will transform our lives for the better. It’s also the state that has the deepest-greenest consciousness in the U.S. There’s a “tension” between these two self-perceptions, as we’ll see, but they combine easily enough to make Californians the Americans most likely to lead the switch from petrol-driven to electric vehicles.

And the latest statistics confirm that. With only 10 percent of the nation’s cars, California now accounts for over 40 percent of all zero-emission cars in the U.S. As sales of E.V.s rise, however, there needs to be a matching increase in the number of electric charging stations to give the new model vehicles the juice to keep them on the road.

Gov. Newsom's got things well in hand.

As Yahoo News discovered, when researchers drove their E.V.s to hundreds of public charging stations in nine Bay Area counties, they found that 27.5 percent were unusable for one reason or another. Given the newness of the technology, the list of failings had an oddly familiar, almost domestic ring to it. The most common fault, at 7.2 percent of stations, was a payment system failure. Second was a charge initiation failure, at 6.4 percent, where charging either didn’t start after paying or stopped within two minutes. Around the same number had a problem with the screen — either totally blank, non-responsive or displaying an error message. Almost 5 percent of chargers had cables too short to reach the car, and a few had broken connectors or other trouble connecting with the cars.

Because a full tank of electricity goes less far than one of petrol, E.V. drivers often have to calculate pretty accurately how long a journey they can afford to take in time rather than money. If a quarter of charging stations aren’t working, they can be stranded unexpectedly. Hilly San Francisco has its own kinds of hazards for stranded drivers—ditto California’s endless series of spaghetti junctions—but only very rarely will they include the weather (earthquakes, more so).

What, however, of the great plains? Even for everyday driving tasks, people there are accustomed to going long distances through places where you wouldn’t want to be stranded on a cold day anyway, but in particular if you were driving an E.V. since they don’t work so well on cold days.

Consumer Reports has recently examined the performance of E.V.s in this regard. The experts they asked pointed to two problems: first that an E.V.’s battery power and range declines as the temperature falls, especially when it falls below zero Fahrenheit—not uncommon in large parts of the U.S. during the winter, from the Upper Midwest across to New England; second, even at somewhat warmer temperatures, the car’s internal heating arrangements draw electricity from the battery and decrease its range.

Pro tip: dress warm in the Dakotas!

How severe are these problems? Consumer Reports put two E.V.s through the following test last January in Connecticut: three different journeys, amounting to 64 miles in all, with the E.V.s allowed to cool down after the first two journeys so that they would need to reheat each time. What CR found was as follows:

The Nissan Leaf (with its base 40 kWh battery; a longer range version is set to go on sale later this year, Nissan has said) has an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 151-mile range. At the end of our 64-mile drive, the predicted range left was only 10 miles. Using the advertised range, the car should have traveled 141 miles before it was left with only 10. That’s more than double the anticipated loss in range.

The Tesla Model 3 has an EPA-estimated 310-mile range. At the end of that same 64 mile drive, it indicated there were 189 miles of predicted range. Put another way, the Model 3 used 121 miles worth of range in only 64 miles. That’s almost double the anticipated loss.

Now, these are early days in the development of E.V.s, and their development teams are very confident of finding ways to improve their performance on battery power and distance range as on much else. For the moment, however, EVs can’t travel very far in cold weather, and in wide open spaces they depend upon the availability of a large network charging stations (that actually work). That means the more thinly populated areas of the United States will need to expand their network of E.V. charging stations very considerably to make it worthwhile for local folks to buy E.V.s—which in turn means a vast program of electrification across the fruited plain.

To get some idea of what that means and will cost, let me quote a U.K. study by a distinguished British engineer, Mike Travers, who in The Hidden Costs of Net-Zero estimates that the cost of installing the E.V. charging points alone will be a considerable one—something on the order of £31 billion in the much smaller geographical area of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Travers goes on to estimate the impact not only of switching to electric cars but also of wider policies of decarbonizing, for instance, home heating, and concludes that the extra demand for electricity would overwhelm the existing system of electricity distribution and require massive infrastructure repair and development at a total bill of £410 billion. Adjusted for population and expressed in U.S. dollars, these figures become $201 billion, $2,665 billion, and just short of $20,000 per household. And for what?

These figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, but they give some idea of the magnitude of the costs of switching from petrol-driven cars to E.V.s in a few years—the Brits are being told to do so by 2035. And they don’t include all the government costs of subsidizing the switch over. In California they include grants to low-income families to purchase E.V.s from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Don't worry: the BAAQMD is here to help!

But what these government rules and subsidies are financing is not the switch from petrol to electricity itself—the evolution and spread of EVs is happening anyway—but its acceleration in response not to market forces but to the non-market instructions of the administrative state. Some of the early flaws and drawbacks of E.V.s would be solved and overcome anyway during the process of market expansion—in effect subsidized by the wealthy acting as pioneer consumers of new luxury products as they always have—while the price gradually comes down. Instead, governments are spending a great deal of money—and making us poorer in the process—in order to make something happen more quickly at the cost of making it happen inefficiently and less cheaply.

Do we really want our economic progress pioneered and charted by government which creates a Bay Area Air Quality Management District to finance the purchase of the latest luxury goods by the poor but can’t manage to maintain the charging stations that enable to all drivers to be sure of reaching their destinations?

Look who’s in the White House. Consider Gavin Newsom in the Golden State. Apparently we do.

Ethanol for Cows, not Cars

How's this for a headline?

Reuters:

Corn-based ethanol, which for years has been mixed in huge quantities into gasoline sold at U.S. pumps, is likely a much bigger contributor to global warming than straight gasoline, according to a study published Monday. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts previous research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showing ethanol and other biofuels to be relatively green....

“Corn ethanol is not a climate-friendly fuel,” said Dr. Tyler Lark, assistant scientist at University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment and lead author of the study. The research... found that ethanol is likely at least 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions resulting from land use changes to grow corn, along with processing and combustion.

Of course, as the piece helpfully reminds us, the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that our oil refiners blend roughly fifteen billion gallons of corn-based ethanol into our gasoline per year, ostensibly for the sake of combatting carbon dioxide initiated "anthropogenic climate change." It turns out that, in the nearly two decades it has been in place, the Renewable Fuel Standard has actually increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere!

Now, this story will have a familiar ring to it for regular readers of The Pipeline. Over the past two years we've covered the environmental (as well as the economic) costs of electric vehicles, solar panels, wind farms, biomass and other passions of the environmentalist left. Every item of that list has downsides that either mitigate or obliterate their supposed environmental benefits.

But that isn't to call them failures. That would be to assume that saving the environment was their main purpose. To be sure, there are sincere environmentalists. But for the men and women running the show, the environmentalist movement is an investment. Its monetary returns -- driven by cronyist mandates such as the Renewable Fuel Standard and massive "green energy" subsides -- are enormous. And then there's the cultural capital they accrue for the time and effort they put into saving the world from "climate change."

As studies like the one above show, the environment would be better off without them.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Electrifying

Oh California what are you doing to me? I don’t like that I’m getting caught in what is obviously a war between Elon Musk and Governor Newsom, and in the meantime our planet suffers.

Truth be told, I’ve been away from my home in Los Angeles for a bit. Okay, pretty much since the beginning of the pandemic, but they’ve not made it easy for me. In early 2020 there was the confusion of different quarantine rules for different counties (some of them forced and scary), but mostly it was the very unpleasant phone call to Los Angeles County who said, ‘It will be up to the officer’ so I decided not to leave the airport terminal and hopped a plane to Hawaii.

But today I’m finding that owning (and neglecting) my Tesla is kind of a lot of work. In the first few months when I couldn’t get back to the States anyway I shut off notifications on my phone. Yes, I know that was dumb but who needs to be reminded that you are helpless and failing on a daily basis? And in two month’s time my car ran completely dry. So even when I got someone to go there, it was in ‘hibernation', and he couldn’t even open the door.

And optional accessory.

The second attempt to ‘wake up’ the vehicle required the combined efforts of my housekeeper, a neighbour’s ‘guy’, and the mobile Tesla person. This too was a flop because my housekeeper ditched me despite having cashed four months-worth of checks to look after things. It’s possible she was mad because I refused to pay her in cash ‘like the other ladies’ but I can’t afford to break the law, and I really do think $25/hour in cash is extortion for unskilled labour. Which reminds me to get the number of a housekeeper from one of my friends who moved to Florida.

Nonetheless, I texted my father for advice and he wrote back: ‘Sorry J, in a meeting, try Steven Henkes’.

Who is Steven Henkes? I called daddy’s secretary who assured me she had no such person in his contacts and promised to ask him the minute he was free. Five minutes later she sent an email titled ‘Steven Henkes’. With the note: ’Might this help?’ Attached was a BBC piece detailing Henkes’ dismissal from Tesla and his filed complaint that Tesla solar panels were known to catch fire, and that the company had failed to notify the public or shareholders. UGH.

The only reason I’m on this tack today is because a lot has happened separate from general electric-vehicle anxiety. Planet-friendly was always going to be my choice even if it meant a few hiccups, but I didn’t bargain on the war between Elon Musk and Herr Newsom. First, there was the issue of asking us not to charge our cars, which didn’t sit well with anyone. It was one thing to ask us to run laundry and dishwashing machines in the evening, well after our housekeepers had gone home, but then the request not to even charge our cars due to drain on California’s power grid, was seen a shot across the bow. 

I for one didn’t see this coming. Even with California’s commitment to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 it became apparent to everyone that California didn’t value the business or personal tax revenues of the richest man in the world. And so Musk moved his Tesla headquarters out of California and into Texas, citing ‘overtaxation’. Musk even said California was no longer the land of opportunity that it once was. I would have wanted to work on his messaging but I didn’t need my father’s input to tell me he was telling the truth; suddenly, 2035 was looking further away than ever. 

Austin or bust.

I really didn’t think he'd do it because it meant so much upheaval, billions of dollars in taxes just to leave, and he risked upsetting his largest customer base, but customers get pretty testy when there’s no product to buy. And what was the man to do when on top of its draconian taxes, California was determined to win the Covid standoff? 

Then last week California proposed new net metering rules to include a ‘grid access’ fee, in addition to the fees we already pay, which will add $50-$80/month to the electric bill. If they go ahead with it, (and what do they have to lose at this point?) it will be the highest solar fee anywhere in the country, including states hostile to renewable energy. AND they propose to change the rules for customers who have already signed contracts and purchased a solar system.

My phone rang… it was my father calling me back—‘How may I be of service?’ he asked.

‘Well… I don’t want you to denigrate my choice to buy an electronic car, but…’

‘OK. Excellent choice then.’

UGH! ‘Daddy,’ I began, ‘I just need advice on keeping my car.’

‘I see. Well…excellent choice to purchase, bad choice to keep. Is that helpful?’

‘No. Not helpful! I just don’t know what to do because I will need a car when I return to California.’

‘Which you haven’t wanted to do for nearly two years now.’

‘But I will return.’

Something like this, more or less, but cheaper.

‘… As you keep saying. But may I remind you, that house… which your mother and I were happy to buy for you… is entirely set up for that very car. I believe you told us it was an investment, by which I assume you meant a good investment. But as I recall the powerwall was $10,000, the solar panels were $30,000 and I calculated seventeen years to recoup this investment, or more like twenty-five when you calculate the decline of energy from the panels over the years. But that was assuming you were allowed to charge your car, and that they didn’t renege on the original agreement that categorically violates basic principles of fairness.’

Of course I wanted to scream, but I decided to just keep quiet until he said something else.

‘So as I understand your question, you want to know what to do with a car, for which a house was designed, in a land you no longer wish to remain. Is that putting too fine a point on it?’

‘I expect to return.’ I insisted, calmly.

Now he was silent. It was a standoff. I didn’t want to talk and he knew it.

'Jennifer, I can’t advise you. You alone know what is going to work for you, and since you’ve been living everywhere but there for the last two years, I see no reason to rush to a decision.’

Wow. He really wasn’t going to help.

‘Sweetheart, take your time. Everyone has been finessed into this green push. Even your beloved California had to pay neighbouring states to take their excess solar lest they blow out their own power grid. Germany can’t afford to convert electricity to methane, France spent $33 billion on a solar farce, and even my own petroleum industry spent a billion on advertising and lobbying for climate-related ventures. And speaking of lobbying, think about whether or not you need to keep a base of operations there just to impress your tree-hugging clients’.

My industry is not a farce. And I wanted to say this to him but I was afraid I couldn’t make a good point just now. And why did he have to be so nice when he really did tell me so? As I’d decided against the train, I rented a car and will have plenty of time to think about it all as I drive to the Cotswolds.

A Tesla Goes Boom

A play in three acts:

Act One -- A man in Finland named Tuomas Katainen bought himself a 2013 Tesla Model S for tens of thousands of dollars.

Act Two -- He drove the car for awhile until it broke down. He brought it to the mechanic and, after a month of working on it, they told him the battery pack was dead. So he called Tesla about a replacement, and was told that, since it was out of warranty, a new battery pack would cost him $22,000.

Act Three -- He briefly considered paying up, but in the end he decided on a more sensible course -- he gathered a bunch of his buddies, went out into the woods, and blew the car up with a bunch of dynamite: 30 kg (or more than 66 lbs) of dynamite, to be exact, and with an Elon Musk dummy strapped into the driver seat.

Check out this video for the fun (I've set it to start a few moments before the blast):

While enjoying an post-explosion cigarette, Mr. Katainen was asked if he'd ever had this much fun actually driving the Tesla. "No," he replied, "No, I never enjoyed [myself] this much [in the] Tesla." Spoken like a true man.

Anyway, enjoy, and remember -- don't make Tuomas Katainen's mistake. Stick with internal combustion engines. That is, unless you've got 60 lbs of dynamite laying around and just want to have yourself some expensive fun.

Destroying the Environment to Save It?

The American Left is beginning to wake up to a fact that regular Pipeline readers have known for years, namely that environmentalism isn't all that great for the environment. That was my takeaway from this NBC News article entitled, "How the rise of electric cars endangers the ‘last frontier’ of the Philippines." The piece looks at the effects of a rapidly expanding nickel mine in the rainforests of the Philippines, and the damage it's doing to the local environment and way of life of natives:

[Jeminda] Bartolome, 56, lives in one of the most biodiverse places on earth, a stunning island that draws legions of tourists to its crystal blue waters and pristine nature reserves. But these days, her livelihood, and the ancient rainforest system it depends on, are increasingly under threat. A nickel mine stretching nearly 4 square miles scars the forest above Bartolome’s farmland. The mine, Rio Tuba, plays a vital role in satisfying the global demand for a mineral more coveted than ever due in part to the explosion of the electric car industry.

The raw nickel dug out of the ground here ends up in the lithium batteries of plug-in vehicles manufactured by Tesla, Toyota and other automakers... With the demand for nickel skyrocketing, the Rio Tuba mine is now on the brink of expanding deeper into the rainforest, adding almost 10 square miles to its current footprint. Local environmentalists fear that it will wipe out the forest’s fragile ecosystem and increase toxic runoff into the rivers that flow past the farmland down below, jeopardizing the crops.

The Bartolome family's story is heartrending, and the discussion of the chemicals leeching into local waterways is worse still. Testing has shown that levels of the compound hexavalent chromium now exceed W.H.O. recommendations in local drinking water, and 85 percent of  households report "an uptick in coughs and other respiratory issues" -- a common side effect of hexavalent chromium ingestion --"as well as skin lesions."

But what about hexavalent chromium ingestion?

Still, the overall tone of the article is strange. The authors have apparently never considered the potential for environmentalism -- in this case the money, political pressure, and propaganda campaign all put at the service of the Electric Vehicles industry -- to harm rather than save the environment. They clearly assume that their environmentally conscious readers will be similarly surprised.

And they do their best to make the case for the mine, giving rise to some interesting overlap with common defenses of the oil and gas industry. Their mention, for instance, of the local tribal leaders who support the mine's expansion and the economic opportunities it will engender remind us of the members of Canada's Wet’suwet’en nation who objected to environmental activists attempting to shut down the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their behalf for similar reasons.

And they quote a spokesman for the Rio Tuba mine who disputed the studies related to chemicals in the drinking water, while also contending that the mine's unavoidable environmental impact was at the service of technological innovation, and that all "human development has been a series of trade-offs." It is worth noting that, had similar words been uttered by a natural gas spokesman, he would have been mercilessly vilified for the remainder of the article.

These gestures to the mine's defenders amplify the air of desperation in the closing paragraphs of the article, as the authors struggle to justify the destruction they're reporting on. They seem to settle on an unsatisfying and contradictory one offered by Natural Resources professor Gillian Galford, who says “There's no one technology that's going to solve our climate crisis. We have to deploy as many options as we feasibly can," including replacing traditional cars with E.V.s and "conserving our forests," which absorb and store carbon. No word from the professor about what to do in this case, when those two "options" are in conflict.

Science in search of options.

Still, the authors can't help but give the final word to Jeminda Bartolome, "rice farmer and mother of six," who struggles to understand "why companies that make products used by wealthy people thousands of miles away must source materials from her backyard." It's a good question, and one that should trouble the affluent, overwhelmingly white clientele of electric vehicle manufacturers. "Our luxury goods are destroying the environment and a way of life," they might be forced to say to themselves. "Maybe we're the bad guys?"

Unfortunately for Mrs. Bartolome it's more likely that any pang of conscience felt by the Electric-Limousine Lefties who encounter these inconvenient facts will will have evaporated by the time they're ready to buy their next Tesla. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

But Where Does Electricity Come from, Pete?

Ladies and Gentleman, "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg, United States Secretary of Transportation and, perhaps, the future face of the Democratic Party:

The Build Back Better legislation] contains incentives to make it more affordable to buy an electric vehicle, up to a $12,500 discount in effect, for families thinking about getting an E.V., families that, once they own that electric vehicle, will never have to worry about gas prices again.

Suffice it to say, I can't remember when I've heard a more brainless sentiment. Buttigieg can't possibly be this dumb, can he?

Maybe it's just that he's been given an impossible assignment -- talk up the increasingly unpopular Build Back Better plan while shifting blame on rising gas prices to combat the president's tanking poll numbers. He might as well be saying, 'Hey, if you people had bought an electric car, you wouldn't have to worry about gas prices right now! But no worries -- we've got a plan to give you a pile of money so you can fix that mistake. That's why pencils have erasers!"

Still, at the risk of asking some obvious questions: Where does Buttigieg think that electricity comes from? Does he not know that it is inextricably tied to the price of petroleum products? Here's David Harsanyi spelling that out for him:

Natural-gas prices have increased over 150 percent in a year’s time — with help from Biden-administration policy. More than 40 percent of our electricity is generated by natural gas.... Right now, fossil fuels are responsible for generating around 60 percent of our electricity — with nuclear, a source that Buttigieg now opposes, responsible for another 20 percent. The remaining 20 percent — often at tremendous up-front costs — is generated by renewable sources.

And as Harsanyi points out, "plugging your car into an outlet for 15 hours every night is going to cost plenty if Democrats get their way and make fossil fuels more expensive."

Even Buttigieg's reference to a $12,500 discount for people buying a new electric vehicle is ridiculous -- the average price difference between a new E.V. and a gas-powered car is $19,000! And that is on top of the significant tax-payer funded subsidies to the E.V. industry, enacted in the hope that it might one day be profitable on its own. It's farcical that even with this new subsidy embedded in BBB they're unable to close the gap.

All of which is to say -- Mayor Pete is trying to take you for a ride. Don't let him.

Morrison Fiddles While Australia Burns

Do you ever make a promise that you know you won’t keep? Keep, discard? Discard, keep? I dare say you might, at least every New Year. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised that he’ll stick with Australia’s target set in the Paris Agreement of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent on 2005 levels by 2030. He knows he won’t keep it. Politicians don’t worry too much about that sort of thing. That’s why they’re politicians.

Developed countries made up their own targets as part of the Paris Agreement. Some, like the U.S. and Canada, anchored their targets to the base year of 1990. It’s a dog’s breakfast. Whatever target countries set in 2015, they were supposed to up the ante after five years. They didn’t and haven’t but have promised to consider doing so by the time next year’s Egyptian COP27 rolls around.

As it stands, Australia is seemingly on course to better its target. Therefore, Morrison, if he's still in office, will grab the costless kudos in Egypt of upping the target. He just won’t say so now. He wants to win the upcoming election. He’ll try to force the opposition Labor Party into making a bid of say 40 or 45 percent. Then, gotcha! You coal-mine closers and job killers. It’s the way he won last time. Why change a winning formula?

Re-election ho!

It’s all political theatre. Coal’s good one day, tomorrow belongs to net-zero. Electric cars will destroy motoring as we know it (election campaign 2019) to here’s a heap of government money ($250 million plus another $500 million of public and private money) to build public charging stations. Morrison plays the climate game like the fiddle it is. He doesn’t have a position on the climate at all. I doubt he’s thought about it and most certainly not read about it. He has position on keeping his job. And that cynicism carries over to Australia’s newly-released modelling of its net-zero plans.

A vainglorious quest to cool the planet has taken over all reason. The gains explored in the modelling have little to do with saving Australia or the planet from the incipient ravages of climate change. They have mostly do with warding off the ire of international financiers; who, in their wokeness, would take a dim view of Australian climate recalcitrance. They would punish us to the tune of from 100 to 300 basis points, according to Treasury mandarins. In turn, this would wreak havoc on investment and reduce living standards. And there’s more. Countries and their citizens would take umbrage, likely impose trade barriers: and, thus, buy less of our produce. Result: misery.

So, you see, the substantive gain from committing to net-zero, more properly, from announcing the commitment to net-zearo, is the avoidance of penalising international action. Australia will be part of a quite novel bootstraps movement which is likely to sweep all before it; China, India and other so-termed gigantic but still-developing nations excepted. Action designed to combat global warming will, in fact, be driven by the imperative to combat being singled out for not taking action to combat global warming. If you follow my drift.

Notice something about the climate plans of governments, whichever government. They all dance on the surface and hope no one queries the unseen details and consequences. Reading Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) might help.

Take electric cars. The Australian government wants 30 percent of all new cars sold by 2030 to be electric or hybrid. The aim is to have 1,000 public charging stations. Currently there are about 6,500 refuelling stations in Australia. Fewer per capita than in the U.S. or Canada, more than in the U.K. Geography and demography tell the tale. They also tell the tale whether you’re driving an internal-combustion vehicle or an electric one. One thousand public charging stations, if they’re ever built, scratch the surface. Whence comes the rest; who’ll foot the bill?

They say people will charge their cars overnight in their garages. Which people? Or is that rich people? When I drive around inner suburbs of Sydney, I see cars parked, packed, along every suburban street. When I return to my birthplace in Liverpool England, I see the same. It may come as a surprise to the rich and famous but not everyone has off-street parking let alone a garage. Where are they to charge their cars?

How is Mrs. Robinson to refuel her flattened-battery EV parked outside her home in order to get to work, ten miles away? She might just make it to her closest charging station five miles away. Wait in line, as others like her, as each vehicle in front of her takes about 30 minutes to recharge. She’ll be very late for work; that is, unless she rises at 4 am. Complain not, comrade citizen. You’re gonna get your mind right for the sake of the planet.

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.

Any plan or modelling of electric cars should set out the life cycle of a typical vehicle; it’s upstream, downstream, and side-stream implications and consequences. We can handle the truth. But I don’t think they know the truth or care about finding it. They certainly don’t include it in any modelling I’ve seen.

Electric cars are being foisted on populations to save the planet apparently. Why then doesn’t modelling show the human, environmental and extraction costs of mining sufficient rare earths in China and, say, Madagascar. Why doesn’t it evaluate the (internal and external) transport and manufacturing costs, the eventual disposal costs, and the costs of providing a refuelling network? The effects of scale on electricity generation? How about the fire-service costs of dealing with unextinguishable electric-vehicle fires?

The fundamental problem here is the replacement of the free market with crony capitalism, aka the Great Reset. Morrison says that we Australians will rely on technology and the market to deliver solutions. But it’s not the market, here or elsewhere. On one side is government, on the other packs of rent-seekers, snake-oil salesmen, and purveyors of boondoggles vile and various.

The free market goes down dead ends many times. The difference is that it quickly reverses course in the face of financial penalties. Government-subsidised and -funded dead ends can be very long and debilitating. And they will be.

Final thought. Wake in fright in the Anglosphere.  Biden, Trudeau, Johnson and Ardern are far worse than Morrison.

EV Dreamin'

Michael Lynch has a good, unbiased piece at Forbes which tries to cut through the disinformation about Electric Vehicles and discern what their prospects over the next several years actually are. Spoiler alert: he's not overly optimistic.

Of course, the data necessary to make that kind of a projection is fairly hard to come by, in part because of the still-evolving technology and in part because the number of EVs actually on the road is so small, skewing sample sizes. But Lynch points out that the sample sizes are actually smaller than we previously thought -- he mentions a recent paper which concludes that right now EVs are principally being used as secondary vehicles for people who also own internal combustion cars. The EVs on the road are averaging about 6000 miles per year, less than half of the overall vehicle average, suggesting that they are mainly used for commuting, rather than longer drives.

This, Lynch says, must be factored into how we discuss the cost of these cars --

[It] means that the cost per mile is much higher for EVs than most estimates, because most of the costs are for the vehicles, not the fuel, and applying it over 40% as many the miles as a conventional vehicle more than doubles the cost per mile.

He also points to two recent papers which analyze the tendency of EV drivers to switch back to internal combustion vehicles. It turns out that roughly half of them do so eventually, complaining most often of their limited range and the dearth of charging stations. For Lynch, this could be grounds for hope for the industry -- the former problem might be corrected by technological advances and the latter by government investment. But problems like the cost of battery replacement and resale value are just over the horizon for EVs, as few owners have had them long enough for either to become an issue. If those issues begin piling up before the still-theoretical range bolstering battery tech breakthroughs, it's easy to imagine the bottom falling out on Electric Cars.

Another reason for skepticism -- the studies which found that about 50 percent of EV owners eventually switch back to traditional engines showed that that number was actually somewhat depressed by data from California, where the figure is closer to 20 percent. Why so low in the Golden State? The theory is that it is at least in part because Left Coasters are more environmentally conscious, though it might have something to do with the fact that, though Californians spend a lot of time in the car coming to and from work every day, that has more to do with traffic than distance. In Middle America, where things are more spread out and commutes are longer, the range of EVs is likely a bigger issue. Which means its probably a bad idea to bet big on Ford's new electric pick-up truck.

With all that in mind, Lynch's verdict is that Electric Vehicles will remain a niche product rather than a market-dominant one.

Does that mean that our elites, who are so certain of their success that they're constantly announcing absurd plans to phase out internal combustion engines before the next full moon, will have to change course? Well, they're not known for admitting mistakes. But even so, their mandates can't alter reality.

From the Government and Here to Help

The U.K. government apparently plans to install 600,000 heat pumps per year into British homes to replace ‘polluting’ gas. No such plans have yet been announced in Australia. Gas heating is used less here than in colder climates. Nevertheless, natural gas is a popular enough form of heating. I have it in my flat. For how long, who knows? The Australian government is sidling its way into the net-zero-by-2050 club. Perforce, setting in train all manner of even more unnatural things than erecting monstrous wind farms.

But what things? There’s the rub. Choices to be made. And, ominously, in the keeping of government.

I viewed one of those Grand Designs TV programs from England. The guy building his innovative house was a green-minded engineer, intent on warming his heavily-insulated house via heat extracted from underground. When finished he pointed to the temperature on his hand-held thermometer with some pride. He had managed to warm his spacious living room to an ambient temperature of 16°C (61°F). His wife in the background looked unimpressed. But that’s his problem not ours.

Build your own igloo! It's easy if you try. Sort of.

Spent his own money. Got a cold house. His choice alone. It’s a whole different kettle of fish when government decides on a particular technical and engineering solution and goes about mandating and subsidising its wholesale implementation. So unfolds a process so fraught with risk that it defies belief that governments could be so foolhardy. Doesn’t it? Not really.

When the economic recession was raging in 2009, the Australian Labor government under Kevin Rudd decided to embark on a range of so-called stimulatory measures. All failed miserably but one stood out. This was the so-called “pink-batts” scheme. The government decide to provide free ceiling insulation batts to anyone who wanted them. This killed two birds with one stone you understand. First, the insulation industry would be stimulated. Second, global warming would be dealt a blow.

Sadly, the outcome did not go according to plan. An aging rocker Peter Garret, finding a second life as a politician, was the government minister in charge; satisfying the requirement (if you’ve ever seen the British TV series Yes Minister) of having no relevant expertise or experience. The existing insulation industry was ruined as main chancers became installers overnight. Imports of insulation batts from China soared; stimulating their manufacturing not ours.

Three untrained installers were electrocuted, another died of hypothermia, several others suffered third-degree burns and ninety-four houses caught fire. The scheme was abruptly closed down. Millions upon millions of insulation batts lay unwanted in warehouses.

Or, you could be warmer. Maybe.

Governments doing silly things with vast amounts of taxpayers’ money is not a rarity. However, hold onto your hats, we ain’t’ seen nothing yet. Unparalleled, climate-combatting catastrophes lie ahead. They’re inevitable. Conditions are ripe. Governments want action. Free markets won’t deliver. This means governments must make choices among alternatives, often mutually exclusive alternatives, armed with insufficient information and foresight; and without the guidance of market prices. What could possibly go wrong? Most everything.

Replacing gas heaters in millions of homes with heat pumps is a huge and irreversible exercise. Too bad if better technological and engineering solutions arise. Of course, when put together with the need to insulate the same number of homes, else rampant hypothermia among the aging, it will prove impossible to accomplish. Nevertheless, if you studiously don’t do the sums in advance, keep blinkered and myopic, there is no telling how far down the road you can get and how much damage you can do before everything falls apart. Look at the pink-batts scheme for a mere taste of the thrilling ride ahead.

Of course, heat pumps are a very small part of governments’ efforts to cure global warming by undoing prosperity. Take electric vehicles.  Figures from the International Energy Agency show transport, almost completely fueled by refined petroleum, accounting for 35 percent of total energy usage in 'selected economies' in 2018.  Passenger cars make up two-thirds of that.  Residential space heating came in at only 11 percent in comparison.

Leave aside the feasibility, practicability, and affordability of extracting and processing the materials required to manufacture sufficient numbers of batteries; never mind their later disposal. It’s the charging of them that’s so much the bigger challenge.

Unfortunately, electric vehicles cannot work their way gradually to a position of dominance and then universality. Not without ubiquitous charging infrastructure. And ‘gradually’, in any event, is not the right word for the wet dreams of woke politicians.

Joe Biden wants half of all cars sold in the United States to be electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030. Justin Trudeau has set a date of 2035 for new cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission. Boris Johnson wants to ban the sale of new conventionally fueled cars by 2030 and hybrids by 2035. And, think, Glasgow’s on the horizon to steel their reveries.

So easy even Joe Biden can do it. Almost.

Imagine what will be required to support electric vehicles in a zero-emission world. Where is the power to come from? I have seen estimates which suggest that up to 50 percent more electric power will be required. My rough calculation, based on figures published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, suggest that it might be quite a bit more than that. And this, when dispatchable power (sourced from coal and natural gas) is gone and largely replaced with unreliable and intermittent power from wind and solar. Literally incredible.

Then there’s the charging infrastructure. Untold numbers of charging stations and the upgraded substations and cabling required to support them. For comparison purposes, there are around 150,000 gas stations in the United States.

To fill up now takes about five minutes. Currently the fastest charger takes 30 minutes to give your car about 200 miles. Presumably that is so inconvenient that charging technology will drive the time down to something bearable, if batteries can handle it.

Let’s realise what’s happening here. Intensive-energy petroleum (what a boon to human progress) gives out its power incrementally over the whole journey. Whereas, all of that same power and more must be delivered into batteries inside some minutes; multiplied by millions of vehicles. Has anyone in any western government done the sums?

Governments are making an irreversible choice. Spending billions upon billions of dollars and committing untold resources to bring about their currently favoured means of propelling vehicles. They didn’t choose petroleum back near the turn of the 20th century; the market did. And the difference that makes, we’ll discover painfully.