Archive for Family Joules

A fire waiting to happen

How about “no”? Does “no” work for you?

Can I use a 150w car inverter to power a 700w microwave?

Someone has already called this person a “brain dead wack job,” which was awfully generous of him.

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Citizen Alkane

Roberta X is in the midst of a series called “Life Without Gas,” which began with this particular incident:

Gas company showed up with a sniffer and pro-grade bubble soap (it’s the touch of corn syrup that does it). De nada. So he did a pressure test.

Yep. Pressure drop. He shut off the gas. That’s the bad news.

Now I do know how sucky this is:

So I’m out mowing the back yard, and the stuff (actually, the stuff they put in it so you can smell it) hits me square in the face. I call the gas company, and they dispatched a chap who duly traced a direct path from the meter to the house and found no trace of gas. “It wasn’t along there that I smelled it,” I insisted, and eventually the truth of the matter was discovered: the gas line isn’t where your geometry teacher would have put it, but dog-legged like the 12th hole at Southern Hills, if nowhere near as long.

Next step: they dig up the old line, install a new one. (I have been told that the gas meter will be relocated closer to the house.) How long this will take is anybody’s guess, so until then: cold showers.

This was 12 September 2007. Gas service was restored on the 17th. Of course, a weekend was involved.

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Instant incentive

I usually fill up at the same C-store every other week: it’s about halfway between my house and one of my preferred supermarkets, and unlike some others I could name, has not imposed a surcharge for premium beyond 30 cents per gallon. The posted price for regular yesterday, as it was two weeks ago, was $2.999, so I expected to find premium for $3.299, and sure enough, that’s what it said on the pump.

There were signs all over the place promoting V-Power, Shell’s version of premium, which was nothing unusual. What I didn’t expect was the pump to reset itself to $3.249 before I started.

On the bottom of the receipt tape:

You received 5cpg off today’s purchase just for buying Shell V-Power! Shell V-Power actively cleans for better performance.

And hey, if they’re going to let me keep 59 cents out of a $38 fillup, that’s fine with me. I just hope they didn’t take it out of the retailer’s hide: they make next to nothing on gas as it is.

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The Gas Game (suspended?)

About this time last fall:

After a one-year hiatus, Oklahoma Natural Gas has decided to reinstate the Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan, which freezes the Cost of Gas section of one’s bill for twelve months, this time at $4.257 per dekatherm.

According to their Web site, there wasn’t an actual hiatus, so apparently they couldn’t be bothered to send me a renewal.

And as it turns out, the actual cost of gas, as quoted on actual bills, ranged between $4.68 and $5.55, so they presumably lost money on the most recent incarnation of the scheme, which just might be why they once again couldn’t be bothered to send me a renewal.

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Brain E10 away

Day before yesterday, a young lady was asking about Creeping Ethanol:

When I bought the car ['98 Dodge Caravan] new, called Chrysler and they said it would be best to not use ethanol gasoline. There are getting to be more and more gas stations where you can’t even get pure gasoline without the ethanol and if they have it, it’s priced 15 cents (or more) a gallon over the price of the gas w/ethanol. Am I just being paranoid? My car’s been running well with no problems other than regular maintenance and the body’s in good shape so it’s worth it to hold onto a while longer.

I answered this, as I am wont to do, to the best of my ability:

Ten percent is not necessarily a killer; I’m doing well with E10. (It’s no good for things like lawn mowers, though.) Automakers don’t like it and will always recommend against it.

If you see any E15, however, it’s over the line, and in fact the EPA warns against it.

Several others answered along similar lines, and we all got exactly one downvote, probably from the person who sent me this nastygram:

People that claim that world food price BS , mistate the facts ,,,the truth is corn produces 7 gallon of alcohol per bushel of corn ,,,,,the kill the world guys say 2 gallons

I live in the corn belt of michigan , and before the FFV we were paid by the federal government millions per year to NOT GROW CORN , yep that is right I was paid a full wage to do nothing for years , yep YOU paid me to NOT plant a 1000 acres ,,,now how dumb is that ???

and I burn 50% alcohol in a car that is not supposed to burn it ,,,and it works fine and gets better milage and the E85 is $1 per gallon cheaper ,,,so what the hell is going on with you libs and big oil ,,,,do you realize Brazil cars burn ALL ethanol ,,,those vechiles were designed in Michigan , why the hell can’t we do it as well ??

I suspect that the other 50 percent, she’s actually drinking, or converting directly to commas.

And the Renewable Fuels Association, which presumably is not likely to understate its numbers in matters of this sort, claims a mere 2.8 gallons per bushel.

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No more miles per gallon

Scotland has unveiled an ambitious plan to get rid of the internal-combustion engine entirely:

[A] newly released plan, called Switched On Scotland: A Roadmap to Widespread Adoption of Plug-in Vehicles [pdf], encourages the uptake of plug-in cars and calls for an end to petrol and diesel-burning cars in its cities by 2050.

With only 235 new electric vehicles registered in the country last year, the government has decided to take a leadership role and is putting up 14 million pounds ($22.26 million at today’s rates) over the next two years towards a number of carbon-lowering measures. For instance, its own fleet will see some plug-in additions and charging points are to be installed around main public buildings. Later, they also intend to install “rapid charge points” at 50-mile intervals along Scotland’s main roads. Other envisioned enticements include rebates on vehicles, half-price ferry rides for EVs and free charge point installation at EV buyers’ homes.

This is the schedule on which everything is supposed to happen:

Scottish plan to eliminate petrol-powered vehicles

And considering they’d have to rework an area only about the size of South Carolina, they might actually pull it off. Whether they’ll still want to, two or three decades hence, obviously remains to be seen.

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We got 3.6 seconds to change that battery

The guys behind Formula 1 racing have come up with Formula E, for pure electric vehicles, and Tam is doubtful about the prospects:

[T]his has the potential to turn the proposed Formula E into the least exciting thing since the invention of competitive paint-drying during refueling stops.

Plus, the whole force-fed nature of the thing feels artificial. It feels like the American Medical Association sponsoring a High Fiber Vegetable Eating Contest, which just wouldn’t be as fun to watch as fat guys burying their mugs in blueberry pies.

There’s always the technology trickling down: racing, they say, improves the breed. On the other hand, I don’t particularly want to be a witness to activities that involve breeding.

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Cascading sales

Buried in this thinly disguised stock tout from AOL Autos is this little factoid:

Washington State is actually the best state per capita for Tesla, with Washingtonians buying one Tesla per every 100 vehicles sold. The Seattle metro area has, of course, quite a concentration of and silicon millionaires being home to Microsoft and a long list of supplier companies to the digital and software giant.

Now one percent doesn’t sound like a whole lot of market share, but nationwide, Tesla is on pace to move 21,000 cars this year in a total nationwide market of somewhere around 14 million, in the general vicinity of 0.15 percent. I’m guessing that cheap kilowatts — bless you, hydroelectric power — make the all-electric Tesla look six times more appealing in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and that the presence of Microsofties is a minor factor at best.

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Negative potential

I’m not entirely sold by this metric, but it does make you think:

Toyota sold almost 10 million cars last year. Divide the market value of the company by the number of cars and you get around $22,000 per car. Do the same calculation for Mitsubishi, who sold around 600,000 cars last year, and you get $10,000 per car. So people think the Toyota company is twice as good as Mitsubishi.

Do the same calculation for Tesla and you get nearly $1,000,000. That’s one million dollars, 50 times as much as Toyota, and 100 times as much as Mitsubishi. Tesla may be in fashion now, but sooner or later they are going to take a fall, and it’s going to be a big one.

Possible insulation: A substantial portion of Tesla’s income — 12 percent, according to its first-quarter report — came from selling California zero-emission vehicle credits, a market whose sole “product” has zero intrinsic value, and right now they own that market, an exceedingly comfortable position to be in. (Nissan, which has now sold a pretty fair number of Leafs, is the next entrant.)

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Light on the subject

Here’s a solar-energy program in Ontario that varies markedly from the usual schemes proposed in the States:

I covered my roof with panels under the Ontario MicroFIT (Feed-in Tariff) program that ends next year. So far I think it’s only in Ontario, but some other provinces are thinking about it. The power I generate from the panels goes directly back to the grid, and I’m paid about 55 cents a kWh and will continue to be for the duration of my 20 year contract. So far this summer, even with all the rain, it translates to about $300-400/month. So the cost of the panels is paid for in about 6-8 years. After that, the money I make in the following 12 years is mine to keep!

Note that she’s not using any of the panel-produced power: it all goes back to the grid, and they pay her above-market rates for it. How does that work out?

Currently I pay about 10 cents a kWh when I use electricity, and that rate will likely go up. If it hits 55 cents in the next 20 years, then I’m better off using the solar power in my own home to decrease my reliance on the grid. BUT that means I need one of those backwards spinning meters, that read energy being used AND being generated, which aren’t yet allowed in my neck of the woods. Hopefully they’ll be able to implement them before I need them. As soon as that contract is up, I have to wire it into my home directly.

Since such meters exist elsewhere, it should be no trick to make Canadian versions available.

In the States, we get tax credits for installing such things. I’m not sure whether that’s an improvement.

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The true Smart Thermostat

It requires, as you see, a little bit of programming:

Thermostat with gratuitous Monty Python reference

This is, of course, from the Book of Temperaments, chapter 2, verses 9 through 21.

(Via Miss Cellania.)

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A slight Caribbean breeze

When green enterprises fail, it’s pretty much for the same reasons any other enterprises fail: insufficient planning up front, insufficient capital behind, or good old-fashioned incompetence. Acolytes of the Church of Environmentalism, of course, prefer to blame the Demon of the Day: the Koch brothers, J. Random Republican, ExxonMobil, or your brother-in-law with the Yukon Denali. It’s hard to see any particular demonic presence here, though, unless you want to count the personification of Bad Luck:

The Santa Isabel [Puerto Rico] wind farm was shut down for a month and a half due to equipment modifications Siemens Energy had to make following malfunctions in the B53 blades at wind farms in Iowa and California. The blades are 170 feet long and weigh 10 tons apiece. 36 out of 44 aerogenerators are now functional.

Pattern Energy, which owns the wind farm, loses $1.5 million each month it can not sell electricity to the local utility, Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE).

Well, yeah, I suppose there was some incompetence involved. This is the money quote:

[La] eficiencia del proyecto ha sido cuestionada, no por su tecnología, sino porque se instaló en un lugar que no produce el viento necesario para garantizar una generación sostenida.

“[The] efficiency of the project is questionable, not because of technology, but because it was installed in a location that does not produce the wind needed to ensure sustained generation.”

You’d think somebody would have thought of that beforehand.

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Or maybe just one long extension cord

One factor hampering widespread adoption of electric vehicles is range anxiety, brought on by the combination of long charging times and short vehicle ranges: if you live someplace where everything is a couple hundred miles away, you’re not really a candidate for an EV, at least not for your only car.

But suppose you can’t drive a couple hundred miles away no matter what’s powering your car?

A rare combination of factors makes Southeast Alaska a promising locale for plug-ins. It’s not accessible to the outside world by road — all shipments and long-distance travel come by ship or through the air. The main road running through town, Route 7, spans less than 35 miles from end to end, so there’s only so far a vehicle can travel in any one direction. Thus, range anxiety isn’t much of an issue. “I think we actually have more miles of hiking trail than roads here,” said Zach Wilkinson of the Juneau Economic Development Commission, one of the entities spearheading the local push for EVs.

While Juneau has only one charging station for now, they’re planning to add a lot more. And since almost all the local power is hydroelectric, it’s not like there’s going to be a sudden spike in the Dreaded Greenhouse Gases once those stations are in operation.

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More juice, more often

The battery pack in the original Tesla Roadster was fairly simple: seven thousand (actually 6,999, but who’s counting?) laptop batteries. In 2006, when the Roadster debuted, Tesla projected that the packs would retain 70 percent of their original capacity after five years/50,000 miles. How did they do? Better than that, actually:

Battery packs in Tesla Motors’ Roadster electric cars will retain an average of 80- to 85-percent of capacity after 100,000 miles driven, according to a study published [Friday] by Plug In America, the nation’s leading plug-in vehicle advocacy organization.

Perhaps better still:

Roadster owners in hot climates are not seeing noticeably different battery capacity profiles than owners in moderate climates.

PIA’s survey might have a drawback or two — they took results from visitors to their Web site, which suggests at least some self-selection bias, and fewer than five percent of all Roadsters are accounted for — but with longevity questions still bedeviling buyers, Tesla surely must be happy about this, considering it was their 1.0 model.

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Grid lark

I refuse to take this measure seriously:

Amid growing fears of a massive electromagnetic pulse hit from either a solar flare or a terrorist nuclear bomb, House Republicans … unveiled a plan to save the nation’s electric grid from an attack that could mean lights out for 300 million Americans.

The reason is right there in the title:

Dubbed the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act, the legislation would push the federal government to install grid-saving devices such as surge protectors to protect against an attack.

SHIELD Act? What would Nick Fury say?

Has there ever been a worthwhile law with a cutesy acronym?

(Via Bill Quick, who expects that nothing good will come of it.)

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When it blows

I have generally been a backer of wind power, mostly because I live in a place where there’s a hell of a lot of wind. Not that the 300-mph stuff in an EF5 tornado is of much use, exactly, but average winds in this part of the world are comfortably, or sometimes, yes, uncomfortably, in excess of the minimum required to turn one, or several, of those massive turbines.

Which is not to say that this is the case everywhere:

If there is a God, then He can surely be seen in Devon’s rolling patchwork of fields and flowering hedgerows. It’s a landscape that stirs a pride of country as great as that evoked by our cultural and scientific achievements. As my grandfather would have said, it’s the view that won us the war.

While I admired this magnificent scenery, at no point did I think that it would benefit from the addition of a few 300-foot wind turbines. Yet, there are people living among us who would disagree; people who would like to carpet our countryside with these monstrosities; people who even claim to find them beautiful — a sentiment I find as credible as a Soviet peasant admiring the Tiger tank that had just squashed his grandmother.

Even I am not so easily deluded.

But, as always, there’s subtext, and even sub-subtext:

Wind turbines serve an additional purpose for the Left, similar to that performed by the tower blocks Ceauşescu built in the middle of farmland, or the factories found on the horizon of Soviet rural scenes: they are statements of power. These steel sentinels remind country-dwellers that they are within the gravitational pull of the capital’s dark star, and that if they believe they are free to reject the beliefs of the metropolitan elite, they can think again.

The countryside has long been an object of suspicion for liberal townies, who consider it a viper’s nest of erroneous thought, inhabited by toffs, retired colonels, golf-playing Rotarians and other conservative bogeymen. The propensity of country folk to choose their own values, to observe age-old traditions and to rely on each other to get by puts them in conflict with everything the Left stands for. In the liberal worldview, you’re either one of them, one of their flock, or an enemy of the people whose way of life must be destroyed.

Then again, there aren’t enough dyed-in-the-scratchiest-possible-wool leftists around here to be much of a factor: wind power exists in this neck of the woods because it stands a chance of turning a buck even when the government subsidy, as it eventually must be, is killed off. And besides, I know all about the visual impact of those big nasty Cuisinarts in the sky.

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Pick up some juice on the way

Tesla Motors says, and we quote, “We want to encourage Model S owners to take road trips.”

To this end, they’ve placed charging stations dubbed “Supercharger” at, um, eight locations so far. This will not, of course, do me any good if I were to undertake one of my epic road trips in a Model S, which, at around 80 grand, I can’t afford anyway.

This is the rollout pace:

Today – 8 stations
Summer 2013 – 27 stations
Fall 2013 – Most metropolitan areas
Winter 2013 – Coast-to-coast travel via I-80
2014 – 80% of the US and Canada
2015 – 98% of the US and Canada

The Bureau of the Census, I submit, has a somewhat different definition of “metropolitan” from Tesla’s.

Anyway, we’re promised two Superchargers in Oklahoma some time in 2014, or perhaps shortly thereafter: one in OKC, one near Elk City. A third, up in the corner around Vinita, should follow a year later. (Route 66? But of course.) Price of this service to owners of the Model S: “Superchargers will be free to use for Supercharging-enabled vehicles for the life of Model S.” However long that may be.

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Juice box

This is the sort of thing for which Glenn Reynolds would say “Faster, please”:

In my new book, I have a storyline involving one of those Edison-level geniuses who pops up every once in a while and remakes some major aspect of human life. In this case, the character invents a package that involves photovoltaic paint and a lightweight battery capable of storing up to 20 kiloamphours of power, a package that weighs less then 40 pounds including batteries and the PV paint. The notion is that you could spray your roof — or your entire house — with the stuff, hook up the battery storage system, and remove yourself from the electrical grid entirely.

That’s a heck of a charge. Assuming you need 100-amp electrical service, a battery this size could run things for a week or so without any input from the solar grid at all, assuming temperatures more like San Diego than Saskatchewan. (At least, this is how I remember the math: 20,000 Ah/100 A = 200 hours.)

This, of course, assumes they’d actually let you do that:

I hadn’t considered it for the book — the wrinkle doesn’t really fit into this part of the story, although it might figure into the sequel — but that sort of development would likely be violently opposed by the powers who control the grid in all its manifestations. It moves the command Let there be light from the hands of all the various collectives that make up the current lines of supply into the hands of the individual. As such, it would be a deadly threat to those who wield those reins of power and control today.

Faster, please.

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Augusta wind

“As Maine goes,” said ancient political wisdom, “so goes the nation.” Here’s one case where I’d like to see us follow their lead:

The Maine House on Wednesday took a decisive stance against blending ethanol into gasoline, giving initial approval to a bill that would ban the corn-based additive from motor fuel if two other New England states pass similar laws.

The House voted 109-32 in favor of LD 115, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, that would ban the sale of ethanol-containing gasoline in the state. The prohibition would only take effect if two other New England states passed similar laws.

Opponents united under the “But … but … the Feds!” banner:

“The federal government requires significant use of renewable fuel, and currently ethanol is the only viable option,” said Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, who is chairman of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “There’s no cost-effective source of nonethanol fuel currently available.”

Now what are the chances that two other New England states will follow suit? Probably next to nil. Previous versions of New Hampshire might have, but the current state motto, “Live Free, Or At Least Cheaper Than Boston,” doesn’t allow for that sort of thing. And Connecticut would make you pour Dom Perignon in your tank if they thought it would cut carbon emissions. At least it’s cheaper than inkjet refills.

(Via Autoblog Green.)

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Oh, we also make cars

Tesla might actually be earning a fair chunk of change on the Model S sedan, most versions of which go out the door for close to $100K, but that’s not necessarily where the money is:

When Tesla Motors reports its first-ever profit Wednesday, much of the money will come courtesy of the state of California.

In its zeal to push electric cars into the market, the state has created a system in which Tesla can make as much as $35,000 extra on each sale of its luxury Model S electric sports sedans. That’s because the Palo Alto company qualifies for coveted state environmental credits that it can turn into cash.

These Zero Emission Vehicle credits could put as much as $250 million in Tesla’s coffers this year, according to one Wall Street analyst, and they are a key reason the 10-year-old automaker has survived this long. Tesla gets to sell the credits to other automakers that need them to satisfy tough California regulations.

Remember when they said General Motors was basically a health-care outfit that sold cars on the side?

This is, however, California policy. They want electrics, they don’t care how they get them, and the auto industry simply can’t afford to blow off fifteen percent of the US car market at one fell swoop. And you have to figure Sacramento will get plenty of that quarter-billion back.

Update: In its 1Q report, Tesla says 12% of its revenue came from credits, about $68 million.

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No potential seen

One of TTAC’s Best and Brightest, a fellow designated “AFX,” expresses his lack of interest in electric motor vehicles:

I don’t want an electric car that attracts hipster douchebags, cheap-assed middle aged nerdy white males, and women with mustaches. I want a real man’s car instead, two lanes wide, two blocks long, and burning hydrocarbons like God intended. If God had wanted us to drive electric cars he wouldn’t have killed off all those dinosaurs so we could have gasoline and diesel powered cars.

Electricity is for vacuum cleaners, tooth brushes, and can openers, NOT CARS.

I’ll have you know that my can opener runs off a hand crank, the way God intended. (Never mind about my electric toothbrush.)

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OG&E fail

I have come to grips with the reality of power outages: they happen, and they’ll continue to happen, so long as we have the twofold problem of (1) overhead wires and (2) insane weather. I’m not saying I’m okay with that, but I have learned to live with it.


Your automated outage-reporting system is deeply flawed, and no flaw is deeper than the one that’s kicking in when the automated voice says that there are several accounts associated with that number. No, there aren’t. This one account, this one number, for ten years. “Or the OG&E account number”? Yeah, right. It’s four in the morning and I’m sitting in the dark and you want me to find last month’s bill? This is stupidity on a governmental scale.

You want to know why I refuse to sign up for that “Smart Hours” crap? Because I figure if you don’t even know where the hell I live, I have no reason to trust the meter readings during those deadly 46-cent-per-kWh hours. For all I know, they could have been run up by someone who lived there 11 years ago — couldn’t they?

If you can’t do better than this, you don’t have any right to collect a franchise fee. Which, incidentally, is voted on now and again.

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Fudge upon fudge

An engineer with the EPA’s fuel-economy team says, not unreasonably:

“Everybody wants a label that tells you exactly what you’re going to get, but obviously that’s not possible. A good general rule of thumb is that real-world fuel economy is about 20 percent lower than the lab numbers.”

This despite the 2008 fudge factors, which lowered the existing estimates by 10-20 percent. For instance, see this sample, with which I am rather familiar. Contributors are claiming that they’re beating not only the new, lower numbers, but the old, higher numbers as well. Which I believe, since I’m beating them myself.

So why is “real-world” fuel economy higher on this model than on so many others? I continue to believe that the X factor here is whether or not the automaker tried to build to the test, to produce a vehicle that would do well on the test and let the real world go hang.

If I’m asked, I will happily quote this EPA guy. And I will remind the asker that nine times out of ten, the ads are quoting the somewhat-nebulous highway figure, which you will never, ever achieve on your way to work.

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Now get out there and cell

The White House has backpedaled just a bit from that “one million electric vehicles” goal, having figured out that, well, it’s not going to happen any time soon. I still think it will happen, but probably not in the next four years. Meanwhile, we’re up to our anodes in batteries:

The lack of acceptance by consumers is creating a glut of batteries. LG Chem Michigan, a unit of the Korean conglomerate LG, for example, was awarded more than $150 million in funding by the U.S. Department of Energy under the 2009 Recovery Act to help construct a $304 million lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing plant in Michigan. It was supposed to create 440 jobs. But the company is still supplying batteries for the Chevy Volt from its Korean plant, and fewer than half the jobs in Michigan have been realized. Why? Lack of demand. LG Chem and the DOE have just been reprimanded by the DOE Inspector General for misusing taxpayer funds and not delivering on stated goals.

Emphasis added, because it seems so improbable that a government agency might complain about taxpayer funds being misused — even to itself, by itself.

Perhaps the upcoming Cadillac ELR, a Volt in a three-piece suit, will use up some of that battery capacity.

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Early adopter cashes in

Yours truly on the then-inchoate promises of wind power, early 2004:

It’s hard to see any downside to this program. Granted, there are summer days in Oklahoma when the temperature is around 100 degrees and there isn’t enough wind to motivate a tumbleweed, let alone spin a turbine, but my A/C doesn’t care where the amps come from. And from my political point of view, it’s still a boon: it’s an environmental gesture that will actually accomplish something without a great deal of lifestyle adjustment, the Saudis don’t make a dime off it, and if some passing bird is shredded over Woodward, it will annoy PETA.

Eight years later, OG&E sends me a present:

With your help we are closer to reaching our company goal of not building incremental fossil-fuel power generation until the year 2020 or beyond. We value you as a customer and because of your lasting commitment to have wind power, we want you to have this reusable OG&E Wind Power tote as a thank you.

Guess I’ll go hug a tree. (There are a dozen on the premises.)

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The next round-up

Jeffro, pumping some diesel, clicks off the pump with 137.001 gallons showing, and asks if we’re similarly OCD:

Just to make it easier to calculate my account balances, I pump my own gas to the nearest dime.

Are you picky — do you “round it off,” or do you just run until it clicks off and call it good?

Weirdly enough, I run until it clicks, and then enough to bring it up to the next dime. And then I go home, calculate mpg, and sob: it’s winter, so instead of my usual 21-22 mpg, I’m barely over 20. In the interest of improving my statistics, I’ve been buying the same grade at the same station for the last several months. I figure I’m taking about a 3-percent hit using E10. Then again, the best tank I ever scored was running the superslab through Midwestern cornfields on 93-octane E10, breaking the 31-mpg barrier. (EPA sticker: 20/28 original; 17/25 revised.)

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Neither gassers nor rail jobs

Believe it or not — and I had to look at it twice — more than half a million alt-fuel vehicles (hybrids, electrics, diesels, whatever) were sold in the States last year. This is, I note for the sake of completeness, slightly less than the number of F-series pickups that Ford sold, but it’s a 60-percent increase from last year, which suggests that a fair number of converts are being made.

About 240,000 of these cars bore the Toyota Prius badge, which now adorns four different vehicles, including a plug-in. Volkswagen — not counting dreamy sister Audi — mailed us over 80,000 diesels. In fact, only one automaker is really faltering in this niche market:

Honda remained the only automaker truly struggling in the alt-fuel field, with December sales dropping 40 percent from a year earlier to 1,084 units. While Civic Hybrid sales were down slightly, demand for the CR-Z and Insight plunged.

The entire Honda alt-fuel line accounted for just over 17,000 sales. Even the much-maligned Chevy Volt did better than that (23,000).

(Title source.)

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Renew Leaf

As anyone who has had a laptop for more than a few months knows, fully charged lithium-ion batteries aren’t quite so fully charged after multiple cycles; your usable time drops a little, then a little more, and then finally a lot. If this is bad in a computer, it’s horrendous in a car, and Nissan, which has come under some criticism for not being able to subdue the laws of physics, is adding a new provision to the warranty on their all-electric Leaf: if, in the first five years/60,000 miles, your battery pack can’t make it up to at least nine bars on the 12-bar dashboard display, they will replace it with one that can.

This warranty covers all Leafs sold thus far in the States, and these questions come up in Nissan’s press release:

Q. Why did you decide to enhance the warranty policy and implement this program now?

A. The expanded warranty is intended to put customers’ minds at ease concerning battery capacity loss, although it is expected that the great majority of LEAF owners will not have to use this enhanced warranty. Nissan’s decision is to demonstrate its confidence in the integrity and performance of its battery system.

Q. What is the status of the class-action lawsuit against Nissan related to battery capacity issues?

A. The lawsuit has been settled as part of our effort to address customer concerns including those expressed by the two customers who filed the class-action lawsuit.

The original eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the battery pack covers only complete abject failure, not routine capacity loss, so as CYA maneuvers go, this is pretty thorough.

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Energy ill-starred

Startling revelation of the day: people who rent apartments tend to have fewer energy-efficient appliances than those who own their own homes.

You’ve already figured this one out, of course, but here’s the explanation:

In most rental units tenants pay their own electricity bills, so landlords don’t have much incentive to invest in energy-efficient appliances. Landlords would only benefit from buying more costly energy-efficient appliances if enough tenants were willing to pay slightly higher rents in exchange for the lower utility bills. Unfortunately, tenants typically have no way to learn the energy efficiency of each appliance in each potential apartment and translate that efficiency into projected utility bills. Thus, tenants are rarely willing to pay higher rent for more energy-efficient apartments.

In a few areas, tenants can find this information, but most of the time they don’t. And if lower energy expenditure vs. higher rent comes out as a wash, incentive is exactly zero. Captain Obvious at the WaPo (first link) sees this as a “market failure,” which is apparently defined these days as any transaction in which the government doesn’t get what it wants.

Comments (3)

Point more than missed

Dave wants to know how long a Prius battery pack will last:

I’m really considering buying a Prius because me and my family have been scraping pennies to put gas in the tank these days. My moms Ford Taurus just ran out of gas the other day and that was the last straw for me. We are dumping around 30 bucks a week of our hard earned cash into that car, and enough is enough. I don’t know much about hybrids or electric cars so I want to know how many years can I get out of the battery in the Prius before it needs to be replaced? Especially since i’m looking at a few used 2010 Prius’ with around 37-47k miles on them. Are they low maintenance? What kind of gas savings can I expect to get? I just need reliable, low cost transportation back and forth to school.

Nothing wrong with wanting to buy a Prius, which is a good, reliable fuel miser, but if they’re having problems scraping up $120 a month to feed the Ford, where are they going to find the $300 a month to finance — never mind gas up — the Prius?

What he really wants, though, is something powered by a perpetual-motion machine fed by unicorn farts:

And I know there is an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty but will the battery last longer than that? I don’t want to be replacing a battery every 8 years.

And oh, if it could be persuaded to do the dishes, that would be great.

There are times when I want a wall to jump in front of someone. This is one of them.

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