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Saturday Lite

Note from Andy:  Interesting article.  Some erroneous statements regarding fraccing.  While I am thinking about it,  the first few months we were on the job I visited this oilfield glossary daily.  Somebody out on the line was always throwing some term at me and I would just nod like  I knew what they were talking about.  The learning curve is pretty steep right out of the gate.

Here comes the sun

By Paul Krugman, nytimes.com

For decades the story of technology has been dominated, in the popular mind and to a large extent in reality, by computing and the things you can do with it. Moore’s Law — in which the price of computing power falls roughly 50 percent every 18 months — has powered an ever-expanding range of applications, from faxes to Facebook.

Our mastery of the material world, on the other hand, has advanced much more slowly. The sources of energy, the way we move stuff around, are much the same as they were a generation ago.

But that may be about to change. We are, or at least we should be, on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power. That’s right, solar power.

If that surprises you, if you still think of solar power as some kind of hippie fantasy, blame our fossilized political system, in which fossil fuel producers have both powerful political allies and a powerful propaganda machine that denigrates alternatives.

Speaking of propaganda: Before I get to solar, let’s talk briefly about hydraulic fracturing, a k a fracking.

Small frac pump

Fracking — injecting high-pressure fluid into rocks deep underground, inducing the release of fossil fuels — is an impressive technology. But it’s also a technology that imposes large costs on the public. We know that it produces toxic (and radioactive) wastewater that contaminates drinking water; there is reason to suspect, despite industry denials, that it also contaminates groundwater; and the heavy trucking required for fracking inflicts major damage on roads.

Economics 101 tells us that an industry imposing large costs on third parties should be required to “internalize” those costs — that is, to pay for the damage it inflicts, treating that damage as a cost of production. Fracking might still be worth doing given those costs. But no industry should be held harmless from its impacts on the environment and the nation’s infrastructure.
Yet what the industry and its defenders demand is, of course, precisely that it be let off the hook for the damage it causes. Why? Because we need that energy! For example, the industry-backed organization energyfromshale.org declares that “there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don’t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all.”

So it’s worth pointing out that special treatment for fracking makes a mockery of free-market principles. Pro-fracking politicians claim to be against subsidies, yet letting an industry impose costs without paying compensation is in effect a huge subsidy. They say they oppose having the government “pick winners,” yet they demand special treatment for this industry precisely because they claim it will be a winner.

And now for something completely different: the success story you haven’t heard about.

These days, mention solar power and you’ll probably hear cries of “Solyndra!” Republicans have tried to make the failed solar panel company both a symbol of government waste — although claims of a major scandal are nonsense — and a stick with which to beat renewable energy.

But Solyndra’s failure was actually caused by technological success: the price of solar panels is dropping fast, and Solyndra couldn’t keep up with the competition. In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific Americanput it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.

This has already led to rapid growth in solar installations, but even more change may be just around the corner. If the downward trend continues — and if anything it seems to be accelerating — we’re just a few years from the point at which electricity from solar panels becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal.

And if we priced coal-fired power right, taking into account the huge health and other costs it imposes, it’s likely that we would already have passed that tipping point.

But will our political system delay the energy transformation now within reach?

Let’s face it: a large part of our political class, including essentially the entire G.O.P., is deeply invested in an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, and actively hostile to alternatives. This political class will do everything it can to ensure subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels, directly with taxpayers’ money and indirectly by letting the industry off the hook for environmental costs, while ridiculing technologies like solar.

So what you need to know is that nothing you hear from these people is true. Fracking is not a dream come true; solar is now cost-effective. Here comes the sun, if we’re willing to let it in.

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8 comments to Saturday Lite

  • Joel

    It is an interesting article. Like the Nobel Prize committee, I’m a big fan of Krugman. However, I’m pretty sure that it’s illegal to re-post an entire copyright article without permission from the copyright owner. Just sayin’.

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    • Andrew

      Once again Joel, you are 100% correct. It is a direct violation of the DMCA. Ah well, I guess I’ll just wait until some internet snooper reports it and deal with it then.

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  • Snowbird

    Hi, I have been a lurker … kind of a Walter Mitty of the RV world … planning trips I will never take and reading about place I will never see. I empathize with your RV problems since I have a 97 Dolphin gasser.

    Krugman was once a very good economist, but has now become principally a political commentator (hack). He no longer provides any empirical information to support his conclusions. The fact he is a Nobel winner does not mean much … so was Milton Friedman.

    There has been a major paradigm shift due to automation and globalization that Krugman has missed. His solutions for most things are in the past. His solution for creating jobs is infrastructure … no question infrastructure is needed, but it is not the job creator it once was. Look at road construction sites, there are more government inspectors in hardhats than workers. Small nimble machines due the cleanup work that once took 5 or 6 men with shovels. Equipment is GPS and laser guided. Unfortunately, many of the machines, the steel and concrete are imported. Tax credist and reductions to the hard pressed consumers do not help employment much either since most consumer products are imported: clothing, electronics, TV’s, etc. I red that 50+% of the cash for clunkers were imported cars … does not include foreign brands manufactured in the US. Created a lot of jobs off-shore.

    Germany has much lower unemployment because it concentrates on high value products (machine tools, etc) that can be exported to the developing nations. Unfortunately, US companies such as Boeing , Caterpillar and Deere (to name a few) that manufacturer high value products in the US that the rest of the world wants are on the Presidents sh*t list. Notice who Obama did not visit … Deere, Cat and Boeing. American workers running CNC machines do well against foreign competition … but it requires workers that can do 9th grade math and reading … another discussion for later.

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  • Joel

    Actually, Germany has a lower unemployment rate because of social policy:

    “It is better to have something than nothing at all. Validating this view, Germany’s short-term working allowance scheme called Kurzarbeit successfully supported the labor market during tough times. Work sharing schemes exist in several economies, but the German one has been touted the most successful.

    Under Kurzarbeit, the German government compensates as much as 67% of the foregone net wages of an employee, if the employer needs to cut wage cost and working times amid economic slowdown. When an employee is covered under this scheme, his/her social contributions such as pensions, health care, longtime care, jobless benefits are fully met by the Federal Employment Agency.

    Further, if there is no work for an employee, he/she has to undergo training and skill development, costs of which are borne by the agency. Such training and development could come in handy at times of booming business. Temporary workers are also eligible for the scheme.

    This sort of employment policy serves as an alternative to cutting jobs. The advantage to employers is that they can retain their trained staff during periods of economic slowdown as the government meets the salary cost. Employers can also avoid the cost of rehiring once the economic situation improves.”

    http://www.rttnews.com/ArticleView.aspx?Id=1296996&pageNum=1

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  • Very well defined, Andy…I always wondered about the dual roles you have to play, justifying the fracking gate guard job with your commitment to the “wild and free,” and the true nature of our planet. But we all have to live, and I have played the same “dual” role in my prior life. I am no politico, and I have a hard time filtering through all the B.S. from the economic guru’s, media hype, and the oil companies. One thing I know; when it comes to you and yours, a man will do what he has to do…
    “Here comes the sun, and I said: It’s all right.”

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  • This job is how I keep an ‘Eye’ on the oil business. I know all their secrets.
    Well…….Not ALL of them, but you know what I mean.

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  • TSgt Ron

    Interesting article. I just bought some solar panels for my rv and have been documenting my process in an rv forum. Panels just hit 1.04 cents a watt at sun elec. My 600 watt ( to start with ) solar array will be powering my frigerator during the day when we use the rv to sightsee. Don’t like to burn fuel while parked all day and the rv is unintended. At night we plug in the camp ground. This article was pretty good but a recent fact brought up in the news is that the government is investigating if china is dumping panels on the market under cost. Should be interesting how it plays out. On one hand it helps people with costs of systems but it kills US manufactures… All I know for sure is my new system will allow me to keep the generator and propane bottle off a bit more.

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    • Andrew

      Solar is my next addition as well. I want to get my feet wet with a small system as a primer for a larger system in Terlingua.

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