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Good job this week! Hard to find much disagreement.

Though no mention of conserving much of what we now waste. For example, this week the EPA ratings for the Chevy Volt were released with 60 mpg when the hybrid engine is doing the work and 93 mpg equivalent during the 35 mile range of the plug-in power.

Perhaps unfair to use, say 30 miles per day, as that's the range in which it really shines, but then they've data showing most daily averages are less than 30 miles.

So Volt? Zero imported oil in this example. Typical car of today? two gallons @15 mpg which would be 100% imported. So for the modest annual mileage of 11,000, 750 gallons. If three million Volts or similarly efficient plug-ins were part of our 150 million plus fleet we might lower imports by 50 million bbls/year and improve our trade deficit by $5 billion/yr at $100 oil.

Adopting the Boone Pickens promoted plan of fueling "18 wheelers" with plentiful and cheaper NG would perhaps double the savings above. Currently NG would be about $2 cheaper than diesel, at the typical 10 gallons per hour the savings would almost pay the driver's wage.

There are 11 million NG powered cars in the world, GM has been selling one in Brazil for over 5 years. Once we've some network of CNG stations it would seem we'd be wise to use NG for vehicles not lending themselves to Volt technology.

As for the arguments the oilcos make for "their" subsidies, here we are again with corpies making a case for how they should be treated. No sale The case for lowering our dependence on imported oil, including the national security aspect Becker mentions is so clear cut that WE the people should be using incentives to head in the direction of conservation (first and easiest) and alternatives.

Some differences from Prof Becker:

" Some subsidy may be justified for these alternatives, but energy from either wind or solar is unlikely ever to be produced at a reasonable cost on a large enough scale to replace fossil fuels as the major source of energy. I still support expansion of nuclear power, but the safety issue clearly needs further attention."

.......... I'd disagree. Various forms of solar are likely a major part of our future, while nukie power, as one observer noted, "is a costly and dangerous means of boiling water". Indeed, and as we've seen the danger not limited to the locality.......... so "insurance?" against worldwide damages? Surely geotherm and/or solar can fill much of the boiling water function, while falling costs for thin film solar is making solar electrical generation more feasible by the day.

"It would be preferable to limit subsidies to wind and solar, and increase government support of basic research on various alternative ways to either produce energy, such as with batteries, or contain the pollution from oil, coal, and natural gas. The private sector generally has weak incentives to work on basic research since the results of such research are not patentable. Clearly, governments have very imperfect incentives as well, but still some government help to the private sector seems warranted for basic research in the energy field that is looking for effective ways to reduce pollution and find alternative sources of energy."

........... Yep!

Gordon Longhouse

Not much to disagree with there.
As noted by Becker one effect of subsidising the price of fuel is to encourage people to over-consume it by buying larger cars and under-investing in more efficient transportation options (public transport etc.)
This has the result that weaning people off of cheap fuel becomes very difficult indeed as it take years for the car fleet to turn-over in response to higher fuel costs and years more for planners to divert resources away from road construction.
Public transport is, as a rule, more efficient in higher density cities and this cannot happen over-night.
All of this adds up to one big political headache, but one that someone will have to suffer sooner or later.


Gordon: I observed the reaction of different acquaintances the last time gas went to the $4 range. Hard on most working folk, but those owning Linc Navigators and the like were well off enough it was just something to comment upon.

If we are to lower our dependence we need to shift some of the income tax burden on to non-renewables, re-work the CAFE standards to include SUV's and continue (if it's still in effect? the gas-hog tax on the really wasteful slurpers.

I recently learned that NO public transit system pays for itself from fares...... so those decisions will have to be made as for community benefit.


" ... research on various alternative ways to either produce energy, such as with batteries ... "

Batteries don't produce energy, they store energy produced elsewhere. Still part of the solution.

Jonathan Mallard

The activity is muted this week, but the benign characterization of fracking perhaps should be re-evaluated if compared with the increased seismic activity noted in areas of fracking operations. You can check the logs for the middle of March of this year for even more activity in a historically low-seismic area.



Speed: I suppose the same can be said for oil? It's just LONG stored solar energy produced by the Sun. Shame that once "discharged" it can never be recharged again.

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Are there any physicists or electrical ingineers out there? try burying a coiled wire (conductor) in the pavement of the interstate and put magnets in the undercarriage of trucks and cars. As they pass over the coiled wire, a current would be induced and could be collected and stored somewhere downstream. Jack, you must have a complete electrical lab at your house. Why not try this and report back.

Tony Suruda

Ronald Bailey at Reason magazine has a nice article about fracking using LPG rather than water as the fracking agent. It appears that this technique could alleviate concerns about ground water contamination and disposal of fracking water. Kudos to the Canadians who developed this.


FWIW, I wonder whether my local library's obscenity filters limit internet access to articles about fracking...


it will!~


Jim, well we had electric streetcars and even buses; but for light vehicles, battery tech is looking pretty good. Or CNG made right here.. for the "SUV" to tow the boat up to the lake?

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very good site and come back next time.



I was talking about generating electricity from the movement of cars and trucks on the interstate at a high rate of speed by putting magnets on their undercarriage and burying a conducting coil in the pavement. In other words using the kinetic energy of the vehicles to produce electricity. At least there would be some return on the gasoline or other fuel used.


Soooooooo? We "want to cutthabudget, we really, really do," yet not one Repub stepped forth to counter-balance the Dems of oil states who could hardly manage even a small swipe against their major industries and their lobbyists?

Not even manage a measly $4 billion cut, out of the billions of the windfall profits from WS speculators having manipulated prices to double what is justified by the fundamentals? Gouged at the pump, working folk will return home to have "balancing" cuts made to policies benefiting those of much less political power.

What chance has America with self-interested corpies and their lobbyists setting policy?


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Jim? Wouldn't that mean cheating the laws of thermodynamics? ie....... at highway speeds a car is using 50hp to overcome wind and rolling resistance (be SURE to check tire pressures!) and becoming part of a generation system would put additional drag on the car. So......... regenerative power on braking/coasting ala Prius-Volt and others; the reason they get better in town mileage than hwy.

Ha! it is interesting that my Sonic T-brush charges with no electrical contacts.

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@Jack-"I recently learned that NO public transit system pays for itself from fares.";please elaborate.~A.

Sam Dart

Hello, Prof. Becker. One distinction I would make here is between the power generation and the transportation sectors. There's a lot of fuel substitution in generation. Coal, gas, nuclear, solar, wind, residual fuel oil. However, there is nothing that can substitute for oil products in the transportation sector in large enough scale in the US today. The whole discussion of NGVs and electric cars is only relevant if you can scale up the use of these alternatives. Electric cars are interesting because they would extend the wide substitutability of fuels from the power generation to the transportation sector, but battery life technology still needs improvement and infrastructure investment needs to be made for recharging stations.
When it comes to NGVs, again, infrastructure is key. Manufacturers won't invest in it if there's no wide demand for it. Consumers are not going to buy it if there are almost no refueling stations around. I think this is an instance where it would make sense to see some government-financed investment in infrastructure. Otherwise, the use of this technology will likely remain restricted to buses and heavy trucks, which represent only a very small percentage of the US vehicle fleet.
Find a way of using natural gas in the transportation sector in large scale and you will have a much better chance of avoiding future physical tightness in oil markets and, consequently, a much better chance of avoiding higher oil prices.


Arjun? What's to elaborate? EVERY mass transit system IS subsidized. Here in Anch a $1 busride has a $2 or more subsidy behind it........ same everywhere.


Sam: It's a bit less bleak with more options:

Coal IS being turned into jet fuel:


Look around at Boone Pickens NG as bridge fuel plan: Do heavy trucks first -- lots of consumption with few refueling stations needed.

As for electrics and batteries, see mine on the Volt above.... just think, for the average commuter, of zipping past all the gas-gouging stations whilst enjoying 93 mpg equivalent. Also...... Tesla, the all electric with longer range, offers a $6,000 solar installation that would keep it charged.

You've a point on "mfg won't invest". The chicken or egg? Who sticks their neck out first? Brazil has long had multi-fuel eth/gasoline giving the consumer a choice. Now they've NG as well with GM selling NGV's for 5 years.

Eleven million of 'em in the world and we who have huge NG supplies, drive a LOT and import costly economy tanking oil from 15 nations have virtually none?

And yes, while the chant is that of the US "drill babying" its way out of exorbitant fuel costs, putting the consumer of one quarter of the world's oil on a diet via conservation and speeding the adoption of many viable alternatives. Many will remember that's how we broke the OPEC choke hold of the 70's "crisis".


Two last tests? Let's pretend we were a nation strapped for public funds; lots of deficits and little political or even public will to raise more revenue.

Is the best bang for our buck that of subsidizing oil companies?

Then, pretend we're importing a higher and higher percentage of oil, the consumption of which continues to increase year after year. Can we do better with our several billion per year than rebating it to oil companies?

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Sam Dart

Jack, I hear you, and I agree that the technology is starting to become available. The NGV technology has been around for many years and, yes, Brazil is an interesting example. But is scaling it up that is the problem, as it does require significant investment in infrastructure. Even in Brazil, it is only the taxi fleet that uses NGVs, not private passenger cars. And ask the taxi drivers there , as I have, and they will tell you that they generally discourage their spouses, for example, from buying NGVs because of their low resale value. Besides, the long lines for NGVs refueling are not uncommon there, as there are not that many refueling stations relative to the size of the taxi fleet.
I still think that the scale of investment required to make this work suggests that government intervention here would be most likely way to make it happen.

As to the flex-fuel cars, which, as you mentioned, are widespread in Brazil, they would involve increased consumption of ethanol, made out of corn in the US. The corn balance is relatively tight and price risks are skewed to the upside there too. So maybe in this case we need to see also a removal of the import tax on Brazilian ethanol, which as much more efficiently made out of sugar cane. US farmers wouldn't like this idea, though, would they?... Tricky...

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