Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt and Energy

Egypt was one of the birthplaces of civilization, and the Nile River valley was probably the route that humans used to come out of Africa and begin to walk all over the world. Not a lot has been heard about or from Egypt until very recently, when that country "caught" the "Tunisian Twitter Bug". Suddenly (at least to those of us in the Western World) things long buried (like the fact that the majority of Egyptians were experiencing a decline in their standard of living, while a small percentage were living larger than ever) all of a sudden came to a head, and were no longer tolerable to the vast majority of Egyptians. Some new forms of communication (Twitter, texting, Facebook, and probably some old fashioned email/websites and maybe even blogs, all aided by new journalism outlets such as (but not limited to) Al Jezeera) probably aided this effort, but these modern communications systems were NOT the cause of the recent mass uprising. All these new forms communication and the volumes of it/interactions with others facilitated by these technologies do have the potential to upset the status quo. In this case, actions aimed at achieving (and not just yearning for) more democracy and doing something about the revulsion at the current ruling Kleptocracy in Egypt were catalyzed by what recently happened in Tunisia. After all, life can be messy, especially when things are so complicated and intertwined.

In my neighborhood, we went through the texting/Facebook "revolution" a few years ago, as hordes of students/young people decided to make the University Heights section of North Buffalo the "Underage Drinking Capital of Buffalo", with "Speakeasys" (illicit bars opened up in "party houses"). Facebook provided a free advertising media that allowed the 50,000 students (college and sub-urban high schoolers) and young people a way to communicate/advertise/locate "house parties", often several in any one night, and to end run local policing efforts that aimed at providing some measure of domestic tranquility. And enough came (about 4000 in one night in a community of around the same number of people) to become very noticeable. But, with fame and excessive ethanol/underage drinking/"legal" age drinking (in some cases, steroid/stimulants fueled), mostly in the service of getting laid but if that never happened, at least significant intoxication, came problems. And also came those opportunists who figured out that $1000 or more in easy money at these house parties could be grabbed and with little possibility of getting the cops called ("Hey man, somebody stole my illicit haul for the night!"). This trend ended with intense sadness via a couple of murders, as well as the end of the phony economic bubble at the termination of the George Bu$h era, sort of depriving the budding social experiment of the money needed for all this boozing/partying. And all the problems caused by mass quantities of really drunk teenagers/recently teenagers (fights, drunk driving, for example) made for a really unpleasant living arrangement for the locals during "partying season" - August through October and April through June (winter and school work load/exams/term papers intervened). And maybe those being marketed to via Facebook got bored and/or ran out of money to feed the "Partying Machine", as well as the economic recession of 2007-2011 and the associated dismal job prospects of college grads (around 20% to 30% of grads get jobs that actually require a college degree, so why spend so much money to get that degree/party when it returns so little in terms of the probability of a decent paying job?). Needless to say, the consequences of this enhanced communication can be different than what the rulers assume, or the owners of Facebook/Twitter/telecoms that benefit when their services are used (and for texting, when they charge for it).

But what is going on in Egypt is far more important than some wanna-get drunk and laid young people in North Buffalo. We don't know how this will end, but the recent events that have modern communications as a factor in them happening so fast and so significantly are going to have a major effect on world politics, and possibly the world economy. The government in Egypt has been getting out of tune with the populace, and the effect of "Free trade" has not been beneficial to most of Egypt's 80 million people. Energy prices and the recent spike in wheat prices (partly a result of the initial manifestations of Global Warming, partly Peak Oil) are much more a factor in the current demonstrations of outrage than are cellphones; but modern communications allow this to be communicated, and allow for significant dispersed organizational efforts to spring up really fast. One wonders why it doesn't happen in this country; after all, the U.S. has a significantly more unfair society (income and wealth mal-distribution) as measured by the Gini coefficient - see - (US = 40.8% ) than does Egypt (= 34.4%), Sweden (23%), Canada (32.6%) or Denmark (24.7%). A higher Gini value denotes a more unequal income distribution between (i.e. wider gap between the rich and the vast majority of the population). Who knows, maybe the WORLDWIDE problem of real unemployment and income/wealth mal-distribution (even if just WITHIN countries) might actually come up for discussion. Except at places like Koch U (see!), where billionaires are wallowing in their own wealth, fawned upon by the politicians and judges (even a couple of Supremes) that they have rented and/or bought, or who appear to be in sync with these Koch Brothers.

Egypt has a population of 80 million, and almost all are located in the Nile River valley, Nile Delta or near the coastline. The city and sub-urbs of Cairo have a population near 20 million. The average age is around 24, which is near prime reproductive age, and the average woman has three children. Since birthrate seems inversely proportional to woman's rights, well, there is not much hope to keep a stable population; on the bright side, Egypt has a lower birthrate than many countries, especially those in the Middle East. A rapidly growing population, widespread present unemployment (especially youth unemployment) and very little arable land (basically the Nile is the main water source) are also not a good combination. So is a rapidly declining oil and natural gas supply.

Until recently, oil exports provided about 12% of GDP, and income from oil exports paid for imports of all kinds of stuff, including wheat, a mainstay of their food supply. However, a rising population and rising per capita oil/energy usage and a stable oil production means that they are a classic example of what is called the Export Land Model (see, where the transition from oil exporter to oil importer can happen quite fast unless that country behaves like Norway, excessively taxes oil consumption and uses/distributes the proceeds of oil exports fairly (Norway exports about 3 million bbls/oil per day, and has the highest oil consumption taxes in the world). Norway also has a very stable population, numbers wise, averaging 0.33%/yr (with lots of this coming from immigration), while Egypt has a population growth rate of 2%/yr (see

The problem is best seen in the following graph, and as discussed in the following excellent article from The Oil Drum (

Just when oil prices are again surging (which could aid export income efforts considerably), the supply of oil available to export has shrunk dramatically. In order pay for imported goods (like cellphones, telecommunication equipment, cars, etc), more exports will be required, and in a world awash in produced goods and services but lacking DEMAND, that is extremely unlikely. Another major source of money is remittances (Egyptians who work elsewhere, like Saudi Arabian oilfields/refineries, and return some of their pay to families back home), but in a world awash in unemployed people (Pakistan, Indonesia, for example), that avenue does not look promising.

And what happens when once again, Egypt becomes an oil IMPORTER? That should be really soon, and when that occurs, Egypt will start to bleed money bigtime, and the income of most Egyptians will probably drop even faster (after the rich take their cut). Next, the price of wheat is also skyrocketing (for this year, due to last year's Russian drought/fires, and continuing Australian droughts). In the U.S., until recently, more money could be obtained from corn/ethanol/DDGS. Wheat also requires significant ammonia inputs (that's what puts the amino in amino acids, and amino acids are what proteins are made of), and ammonia prices (often coal or natural gas sourced) have been spiking lately (up by a factor of 3 in two years); wheat is a major protein source for many in the Middle East. In fact, most commodities and manufactured goods with a significant commodity cost input have been going up at a fast pace of late.

Egypt will need to find home grown energy sources, fast, as its fossil fuel sources are maxed out and soon to be tapped out. But, in addition to a vast solar resource (expensive, but then much of Egypt is desert, and located very near the equator), it also turns out that it has very impressive wind resources - both on and offshore. Here is a source describing these resources - And the wind map (topographic and wind maps in the article, too):

The best wind resources are located on the western shore of the Gulf of Suez, and in the northern part of the Red Sea/southern part of the Sinai peninsula. There are also two huge sections on either side of the Nile Valley (but not in the valley) south of Cairo, located on some uplifted lands/plateaus. Those Gulf of Suez winds are often in excess of 11 m/s average wind speeds at 50 meter heights - truly awesome values. Egypt has 430 MW of currently operating wind farms, all located near Zafarana (projects 1 through 8), in prime Gulf of Suez coastline wind territory. This country has more wind installed wind turbine capacity than any other country on the continent of Africa At those wind speeds, medium sized wind turbines on relatively low towers can produce some of the best outputs in the world. Of course, it is really hot, and there is the sand problem - the sandstorms are not good on wind turbine blades (erosion big time). But net outputs can be in excess of 50% of the rated output given those average wind speeds. And repairs are just another job to do...

Next, there is the storage of electricity problem. For this, the use of ocean water pumped hydroelectric facilities would be ideal, especially since there is a significant hill/small mountain range located next to the Red Sea/Gulf of Suez. Using ocean water in lined ponds on top of some of those hills would not affect the water supplies from the Nile, since evaporation is a major problem. In some cases, pumped hydro storage ponds can be hollowed out of those hills/small mountains, and thus those evaporation losses could be avoided altogether.

Another possibility is the use of solar heat to evaporate water from ocean water ponds (maybe in conjunction with those pumped hydro storage ponds). This water could then flow by gravity to the population centers along the Nile Valley (also making electricity in the process). The water obtained by solar evaporation could also be used to grow that wheat so desperately needed.

Anyway, those projects would require significant capital, but would free Egypt from the need to do more food imports, and any energy imports. The country is full of educated people, and being allowed to do something that makes the world a better place AND a paycheck would be quite nifty, and highly desired. And evidently a fair number of rich people, intent on not investing in their own country, and instead behaving like rich people most everywhere. They could even use some of that electricity to make ammonia from wind energy, ocean water and air (water electrolysis, nitrogen from air). This could produce a huge number of jobs just doing all that design/civil construction (pumped hydro, ocean water evaporation), and with enough orders for wind turbines, some or most could be supplied by local manufacturing. After all, average wind speeds of 10 m/s or more that can be seen on large scale maps means that Egypt could easily power up wind wind, and survive the transition from an oil based one to a renewable one. This would also take the pressure off of the Nile River (hydroelectricity, irrigation water); Global Warming will result in a smaller water flow. And since a large fraction of Egypt's population will get flooded out if the Greenland icesheet collapses (Alexandria, Cairo, Suez), well, it would be smart to work on not accelerating that process.

As to the population problem (analogy of the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn't know what to do...), well one could only hope that Women's Liberation comes sweeping across THAT nation (apologies to Frank Zappa for that line) before someone takes Monty Python's too many kids solution as something other than satire. One other fact to remember is that as the standard of living in a country rises, the birth rates tend to drop. And a massive effort at initially tapping the lowest cost renewable energy resource in Egypt would do wonders for that country. As to tapping that solar furnace in the center of that country, well, PV tends to be expensive, especially if the PV systems are mostly manufactured elsewhere. It could be that solar thermal sites along the Mediterranean Sea (using that as the coolant) would also be a smart idea. But one thing is for sure - relying on oil and natural gas on leads to a future of economic decline.

And that is also a lesson that applies to the United States. It would also be nice if we got wise, used our awesome wind resource, and cut down on our measure of inequality (Gini value). Odds are, lowering that Gini value can't be done without a massive manufacturing effort of renewable energy systems.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And Now For a Bit of Science

Every once in a while a bit of noteworthy science pops up (no, not just the publicity/rare event kind) and here is one I caught from a nifty website called the Cost of Energy (the author coined the famous concept called the Inhofe Scale, which you can Google, yielding as the number 1 result: Note: a high Inhofe scale reading corresponds to severe scientific ignorance, and that is NOT a good thing, IMHO. The "blogzeprt" can be found here:

leading to the article in question here:

The 25 page paper is by James Hansen and Makiko Sato, both of whom rate a zero on the Inhofe Scale (which is a GOOD thing, IMHO), discusses the climate perturbations in that last 50 million years, and how they relate to the temperature of our planet's surface. This paper also contains a warning in the initial abstract:

"We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster."

Is that clear enough for you?

About 50 million years ago, our climate was really warm, caused by a CO2 concentration in the atmosphere of about 1000 ppm (present level is near 386 ppm), the poles were ice free most of the year, and sea levels were about 75 meters above (246 feet) present levels (the icesheets on Greenland and Antartica in effect "remove" water from the ocean, and that results in the present state of affairs). Part of the reason for the high CO2 levels was the movement of the Indian continent northward through the Indian Ocean, and this caused CO2 that had been abstracted from the air/deposited by small lifeforms (algae, plankton, small aquatic lifeforms that had calcium carbonate shells that fell to the ocean floor when they died) to get recycled back into the air. However, the Indian continental plate eventually collided with the Eurasian plate (this gave rise to the Himalayan Mountains - see here for a great description of that event:

It turns out the the ground being thrust upwards at a 5 mm/year rate (yes, Mt Everest is getting taller as we speak) contained a lot of alkaline material, and given the precipitation in the region (for example, Monsoons), a lot of that gets washed into oceans like the Pacific and Indian oceans. Alkalis react with carbon dioxide (CO2) forming carbonate and bicarbonate salts, some of which are not very soluble, and they precipitate and fall to the ocean floor, where they get covered up by sediments. In effect, this pulls CO2 out of the air, and dumps it on the bottom of the ocean as carbonate and bicarbonates, along with the organic compounds (bacteria, algae, plankton, shellfish) in various deceased critters. Lots of gigatons of CO2 has been pulled out of the air in the last 25 million years via this effect, and in the process this has lowered the temperature of the ecosphere and lowered ocean levels via those Greenland and Antarctic icesheets, plus other glaciers (like those on the Himalayan mountains).

It turns out that ocean sediment cores can be used to provide a history of the average global surface temperatures over this period of time. The cores can be accurately dated via radioisotopic methods, so this provides the DATE. And it turns out that oxygen isotope ratios (the ratio of O18 (8 protons, 10 neutrons) to O16 ("normal" oxygen, 8 protons and 8 neutrons) can be used to determine the temperatures of our planet's surface. Then there are other ways that the CO2 concentration in the air can be determined. This system has been extensively tested using ice-cores dating up to 800,000 years in the recent past.

So, what Dr. Hansen and company have assembled is a "paleoclimate history" dating 50 million years, with CO2 concentration and surface temperature recorded versus time. Cool, eh?

It turns out that the earth has small perturbations in its orbit, so that it is a bit further out from the Sun at some times, and closer at others. These lead to times where the solar flux is more intense or less intense, leading to cooling and warming periods. These periods can be exactly tracked, and these can explain a 1 C (1.8 F) change in surface temperatures. During cooler periods, ice tends to form more, this reflects more light, less of the sun's energy is absorbed, and the planet surface tends to get cooler; this is called a feedback mechanism, and it works both ways.

Every once in a while, stuff happens, such as a volcano erupting under the ocean where there could be huge methane-ice clathrates (which became famous due to the Macondo-BP oil disaster in 2011 - see These are only stable solids at high pressure and cold temperatures, and obviously, if a volcano goes off under a big zone of these, the methane bubbles out to the surface. Methane (CH4) is an even more intense infared radiation absorber than is CO2, especially at the wavelength that corresponds to "room temperature" - this wavelength is around 695 cm^-1, or 14.4 microns (red light is 0.7 microns, yellow is 0.52 microns). The methane also gets converted into CO2 in the presence of ultraviolet light and oxygen, which adds to the "greenhouse effect" a bit more. A huge volcanic emanation of CO2 could also spark off a global warming event.

In this paper, the effect is noted - increases in CO2 concentrations (and also possibly via increased CH4 levels) lead to more global warming, and not vice versa. And more global warming melts off and/or leads to the decomposition of the icesheets (sort of like a landslide - very rapid, especially in geological terms). These are the FACTS.

Much of our current electricity generation, almost all of our transportation and residential/commercial/industrial heating needs are fossil fuel sourced, and the by-product of that is CO2 pollution. If our current CO2 concentration in the air was not 386 ppm but more like 216 ppm (dawn of the industrial revolution), that CO2 emanation could rightly be called "emission" instead of "pollution". But since more CO2 is going into the air than is being pulled from the air into the ocean (at a rate of about 2 ppm/yr), it's rightly called pollution. If we want to stop doing this superfluous and dangerous experiment in global warming (CO2 concentration vs global surface temperatures versus time) then we have to stop the advance of CO2 trash dumping into our atmosphere, pure and simple. It's just math....

Of course, when your income depends upon NOT KNOWING something (a famous Upton Sinclair saying), well, people can be stubbornly stupid for a long time. Right now, most think that making and using energy sensibly given the present CO2 concentration, the trends in CO2 concentration and how all those climate feedback loops will behave is going to put a hurt on them financially, socially, or maybe even romantically (it's the car that gets your date for the night in the mood, maybe...). The short term reigns supreme, for now. Unfortunately, it's always the long term that prevails, and in Hansen's most recent paper (he has written a lot of them, including ones correlating CO2 concentrations with ocean levels/icesheet extents) he lays out what will be if we continue this stupid experiment in Global Warming.

It's one of the reasons why you should AT LEAST consider voting with your electricity bill. You can actually select whether your money for the generated portion of your electricity bill (which was about 20% of my Dec 2010 bill, or all of my 2010 electricity bills, for that matter) goes to a polluting electricity source (coal, natural gas, or even nukes, but that's a different kind of pollution other that fossil fuel sourced CO2) of generated electricity. So, use one of the few rights that we seem to have left, and help make the world a slightly better place. Choose non-pollution based electricity, for a change, if you haven't already.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NY Climate Plan Comments - The Surrender to the Heat

The NY State Climate Plan tentative version has more or less been completed, and can be seen at this site: This allows one to browse through the various chapters without the 418 page entire document that is 17 MB at least. Comments to this plan can address specific portions, or the whole enchilada. The comment site can be accessed here: It is probably best to type these out in a word processing file first, save it and then copy and paste those into the comment form.

Anyway, it's your future, and that of your descendants at stake. And quite possibly any shot you have at actually being employed to make the world a better place, as there could be lots of economic opportunity involved in changing our largely unsustainable ways into something better suited for the 21st century.

Finally, there is a new addition to the Plan - the adaptation/recommendations. To me, this basically looks like the Terms of Surrender to Global Warming, since most of the causes for this - CO2 pollution via some kinds of electricity generation and especially by automobile/truck/airplane transportation, as well as by urban sprawl and especially by a failure in the Plan to institute large scale electric powered mass transit - are not dealt with but merely accepted as the way things have to be. Consider this the "don't do much" approach, but with the consequences of a pair of "Black Swan" possibilities significantly downplayed, or avoided altogether ( see - a nuke reactor partial/full scale meltdown anywhere in the world (worst case for NY State, in NY State) or the decomposition of a major part of the Greenland Ice-sheet (landslides are notoriously hard to predict, and very "non-linear" events, and once started, proceed with apparent amazing rapidity, and that is how that ice-sheet will fall apart, with a bang and not a whimper) . The Greenland Ice-sheet decomposition (a consequence of Global Warming) would raise ocean levels rapidly - something like 6 meters (20 feet), and this has been the historical (as found via paleo-climatology evidence) case, not the slow rise over many centuries. For example, see and[0]=T3RoZXIgdW5pdmVyc2l0eSByZXNlYXJjaA%3D%3D&limitstart=10 (click on Target Atmospheric CO2). Most of NY state's population lives in NY City, on Long Island or in nearby locations that are significantly connected to NYC, and raising sea-levels by 20 feet renders such regions as not very viable, socially, economically or in any mode except fish farms.

Anyway, here are some comments you may wish to consider before making your comments:

Dear NY Climateers,

Evolving to a scenario where NY becomes essentially climate neutral mostly involves the elimination of CO2 pollution, and most especially the avoidance of making that pollution (CO2 sequestration is apt to be negligible in significance). Hence the focus on elimination of oil, coal and natural gas usage, on the efficient use of energy consumed, and the avoidance of energy usage in valueless added ways must be a prime consideration in a society compatible with sane climate policies. Modern societies such as ours run on energy, and have grown up and developed in relatively energy-ignorant and energy-profligate ways and is now addicted to inexpensive pollution based approaches, and our society has to either get wise or wither rapidly. How we deal with these challenges will determine our economic and ecological fate, and we do not have much time to change our less than intelligent way of life and base it on a largely pollution-free energy basis.

There are three areas that the NY Climate Plan seems dreadfully inadequate. These are misunderstandings of and/or a failure to comprehend Peak Oil/Peak fossil fuel energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy (both electricity and liquid fuels). You can do better than what I read in this effort. But perhaps the plan also suffers from a lack of people working on this plan who have thought about what Peak Oil means. The proposed Climate Plans certainly suffer from a failure to consider what works and what does not work with regards to making renewable electricity economically - and thus socially and ecologically - viable. In other words, there is enormous room for improvement in this effort to (mostly) limit NY's CO2 pollution rate (the rate of fossil fuel combustion in NY State, where CO2 pollution is defined as fossil fuel combustion with waste by-product CO2 emanated into the atmosphere).

With regards to Peak Oil, there is at least some acknowledgment in the report that Peak Oil will happen at some time (according to the International Energy Agency, this ALREADY HAPPENED in 2006), which is a significant improvement over the status quo. Unfortunately, that seems to contradict what the estimates are for Vehicle Miles Traveled per Year (vmty) for a future NY in this report. Peak Oil basically means that the availability of liquid fuels most commonly used for transportation (especially cars, trucks, airplanes) will shrink over time, and the means that ever smaller rates of oil product consumption will be enforced by "markets" is a via process called Demand Destruction. In addition, there is a special form of demand Destruction described by the "Export Land Model" (ELM), which will magnify the price escalation, and the rate of price escalation of oil and associated oil products, as well as anything priced in relation to oil. In the ELM scenario, a greater number of customers worldwide will be competing for an ever shrinking quantity of "exportable oil" available from countries that produce a surplus of oil, and they (importers) will bid up the price of oil until some customers cannot afford the price and no longer use as much or any oil. Since Peak Oil signifies that no further increases in the rate at which oil can be supplied will be available at almost ANY PRICE, the bid price for oil becomes disconnected from the cost to extract MOST oil. Furthermore, this results in a massive export of money from oil importers and a corresponding massive influx of money to oil exporters, who will most likely (Norway excepted) subsidize internal consumption of domestically produced oil. This will cause internal oil consumption in oil exporting countries to rise rapidly, and shrink the quantity available for export faster, until they too no longer have excess oil to export, and instead become oil importers much sooner than would be expected, in turn adding to the feeding frenzy for the ever smaller quantities of exportable oil. The export of such massive quantities of money from oil importers will adversely effect these societies (such as the U.S.), leading to a series of increasingly severe economic recessions/depressions, and a significant reduction in the standard of living for MOST Americans. This could also lead to further mal-distribution of wealth and income, often demonstrated by those who are an increasingly smaller percentage of the population who have access to oil/can afford this oil, and all that that means.

NY has essentially no oil resources of its own, and in the last few decades, an ever shrinking manufacturing sector, which allows this state's residents to trade goods to oil producing countries/others to obtain the money to import ever pricier oil. Lately, NY has been the beneficiary of significant national and global financial machinations (acting as the casino, and taking a cut of the proceeds), but this process came to a head when too many of the assets of (mostly) US homeowners were stripped away by mortgage fraud/CDO's/CDS's, shorting and other gambling processes on Wall Street (where many countries/companies/assets of the world got used to prop up the schemes), and those ultimately paying for those loans could no longer keep up with the payments. Over time, as the financial players of the world will opt to play at different and less corrupt casinos, NY's "cut" of the "action" will decline, and so will the ability to trade money for exponentially (15%/yr on average for the last 12 years) increasing priced oil. Then our ability to purchase oil will depend on our ability to trade manufactured THINGS for this oil. No manufacturing will mean the inability to by ever more expensive oil.

Peak Oil also means that NY must DECREASE oil consumption rates, which specifically means less vmty via cars (gasoline, diesel), trucks (diesel) and aircraft (kerosene), as well as drastically improved fuel efficiency for cars (now a pathetic ~25 mpg). This will also mean a steady migration and abandonment of sub-urbs and ex-urbs, and an extension of mass transit into surviving (that is, some fraction of those presently existing) sub-urbs and ex-urbs. It will also mean the phase-out of air traffic between NY City (NYC) and NY's major urban areas (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse), and either replacement with rail (medium or high speed) or avoidance of this travel. And finally it will mean electrification of rail, and increased usage of rail for freight shipments - especially medium haul (inter-city) applications as inefficient (fuel consumed per ton-mile basis) trucking mostly gets "Demand Destructed".

Thus, the increase in vmty from 140 billion in 2007 to the contemplated 240 billion by 2050 is impossible. In fact, a better rule of thumb would be to cut in half the vmt while initially doubling the mpg of these vehicles, which would chop gasoline consumption to 25% of present values. Mostly eliminating intercity truck traffic (to electric freight rail) and mostly eliminating inter-city NY air flights will allow NY to better accommodate Peak Oil, allowing for more of a shift of those remaining cars to hybrid and fully electric versions. But regardless, NY will not be traveling by car anywhere near as often as is presently the case. This will also mean essentially zero population growth, and a revival of city mass transit (electric, mostly) such as trolleys and light rail.

At present (2009 via US EIA website) NY uses 170 million bbls/yr of transportation fuels (gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel) in a 130, 16 and 24 million bbl/year distribution. The output of about 10,000 square miles of biomass derived fuel (solid, liquid and gas) would allow some usage of fuel derived transport, farming and construction activities based on Made in NY biofuels. At about 6 bbls oil equivalent per acre per year, this will supply NY State with about 22% (38 million bbls/yr) of its existing liquid fuel consumption rates, but which should be sufficient for a 50% greater fuel efficiency/50% less vmty scenario. Doubling the efficiency of biomass production (for example, using both corn AND corn stover to produce EtOH or other liquid fuels) would obviously produce more fuel or require less acreage to supply biomass to transportation fuels and/or allow more fuel usage for heating and back-up power generation, as required. Fuels could also be made via hydrogenation of nitrogen (ammonia) or from the CO2 by-product of fermentation and biomass combustion operations(CO2), where that H2 is produced by the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity.

U.S. and NY methane supplies are also finite, and these are mostly used in NY for heating (residential, commercial, industrial) and electricity. In order to preserve what methane is present in North America, the rapid phase-out of natural gas to make electricity (1/3 of NY's methane consumption) must be commenced. This can be largely accomplished by a combination of pumped hydroelectric (storage) and wind (on and offshore) turbines at a reasonable price, once the absurd linkage of pollution sourced electricity (old nukes, gas, oil, coal) and renewable electricity is discontinued, and replaced by a system based on the cost of production plus a reasonable profit in exchange for predictable prices. At present, NY makes about the same quantity of CO2 pollution from "mined methane" to electricity facilities than it does via coal to electricity systems. Most of the "mined methane" is supplied from out of state, and it represents a financial drag/de-facto tax on NY'ers where our standard of living/economic well-being is partly degraded to buy this fossil fuel "fix".

Most residential heat is supplied by Ngas in NY, and this needs to be transitioned to passive/active solar heat and electricity (resistance, heat pump) ASAP. The same applies for commercial customers, supplemented by biomass-cogeneration, while biomass sourced heat supplemented by electricity will largely industrial users. This will avoid becoming susceptible to massive price spikes of Ngas once the current temporary mini-glut wears off. In addition, given the present $90/bbl price for oil (gives about $20/MBtu after refinery losses/conversion to usable products), Ngas producers will soon chose to convert methane into petroleum fuels; even at a 50% loss, this is simply too much temptation, and when oil goes towards $30/MBtu, the incentive for methane to gasoline conversion will be amazing. The construction of so-called Gas to Liquids (GTL) facilities will re-equilibrate Ngas and oil costs, and Ngas will no longer be cheap. GTL facilities are vastly lower cost than coal to liquids facilities (CTL), and can be rapidly assembled. The illusion that Ngas and oil prices will no longer be connected is a temporary one, and yet this was rarely mentioned in the report.

In 2009, NY residential and commercial usage of Ngas for heat was 685 billion cubic feet per year (bcf), equivalent to 583 bcfy at 100% efficiency (assumes heating systems are 85% efficient on average). If only resistive heating was employed, this would be equal to ~ 19.4 GW of electricity usage. If 20% of this was supplied by solar thermal systems and 50% was supplied by heat pumps with a 4:1 COP, the 19.4 GW usage of electricity for heat could be dropped to 9.7 GW electric. Since most heat requirements correspond to NY's "windy season" (Oct-Mar), this is fortunate. A significant increase in biomass fired co-generation systems could also make this value smaller.

These are solid, liquid (for transportation) and gas (biogas/bio-syngas) ones made from biomass, or those made by hydrogenating the biomass/CO2 from biomass via renewable electricity and water (note: anhydrous ammonia can also be used in diesel applications). These cannot compete at current petroleum, methane and coal prices, especially when the cost of CO2 pollution (estimated as $85/ton of CO2 (Stern Report) is not incorporated into the cost of fossil fuels. The key to commercializing them is to put them on a cost to produce plus a reasonable return basis, and to quit connecting them to fossil fuel prices, which are no longer mostly based on the cost to produce but instead the marginal price needed to supply the last amount of fuel used. In many cases, fuel prices are based on "how high a price can customers tolerate" basis, further disconnecting oil prices from the cost to make and purify most oil products. Natural gas prices being $15/MBtu in 2008 and then $3/MBtu at times in 2010 is absurd, and the sign of a malfunctioning market system. The investments needed for biofuels production will never be made available until stable and SENSIBLE prices can be obtained, and in turn this will allow capital to be raised and allow the long term investments in growing, collecting and converting biomass to occur.

Instead, there is no recognition of this fact in the NY Climate Plan(s). NY may never be able to be totally self-sufficient in biofuels, but it could be mostly self-supplied if usage is significantly dropped by sensible mass transportation and urban development policies. This could also allow rural areas to become economically viable; otherwise, abandonment of rural areas to cities will continue in NY. As mentioned earlier, H2 made from water electrolysis could also supply ammonia (a fuel and fertilizer to grow biomass/put protein in food) and the H2 to reduce biofuel combustion sourced CO2, with the electricity mostly supplied by wind turbines. Electrolysis systems also could be used as a variable demand buffer for grid stability; times of high wind speeds (lot of wind turbine electricity) would be for maximum H2 production, but H2 production rates could be minimized when combinations of low wind speeds/high electricity demand occur.

This is perhaps the greatest failure of the Climate Plans (Yellow (= chicken?), Blue (Cherenkov) and Ultraviolet (hardcore radiation centered)) - a failure to realize the real costs of renewable electricity production (depends on type, scale used), the real cost of the nuke "alternatives" (which are much more than assumed in these plans) to renewable electricity, and the fact that the renewable energy potential for NY is proportional to the price paid for this electricity. In particular, at the cost of new nuke derived electricity (presently more than 20 c/kw-hr assuming massive subsidies for zero rad-waste disposal requirements and free catastrophic event insurance are continued), NY could be self sufficient in renewable electricity mostly via onshore wind, followed by offshore wind, biomass and tidal, with supplemental electricity provided by PV. This will also require a significant increase in pumped hydro capacity, probably to more than 10 times NY's present 1.68 GW/12.8 GW-hr capacity,in multiple locations geographically dispersed across the state in places where water access, grid access and hills/mountains co-exist.

This renewable electricity will also be needed to provide most of the heat for NY residential and commercial applications, as well as the bulk of new transportation energy (electric freight rail, electric passenger rail, mass transit in urban areas, followed by hybrid and/or all electric cars). The heating and transportation areas will constitute the growth portions of future electricity demand, along with some growth in industrial usage. The idea that only 2% of NY's electricity usage in 2030/2050 will be for industrial uses is absurdly stupid, as this sector is the source of most real income/real wealth generation. A 2% usage of NY State electricity consumption in industrial applications implies negligible real wealth generation within the state, and an effective drastic collapse in standards of living for most NY residents.

In 2009, NY electricity generation averaged 16 GW. Over time, any increases in efficiency (e.g. incandescents to LED or fluorescents, smaller house sizes, fewer shopping malls) will be more than overtaken by the increased demand from heating (replacing Ngas) and from transportation (rail and electric cars). Heat alone could increase NY electricity consumption by 10 GW (assuming 10% supplied by passive/active solar heating and 50% is supplied by electric powered heat pumps, with the rest supplied by either resistance heating or biomass). With 3 GW supplied by existing hydro, average electricity needs from other renewable sources will need to be near 26 GW (includes 1 GW for pumped hydro storage losses, 2 GW for new electric transportation). For example, a probable distribution would be 2 GW tidal, 14 GW onshore wind, 2 GW biomass co-gen, 7 GW offshore wind and < 1 GW PV (mostly used for summer peak augmentation), but there are many possibilities.

In conclusion, try again, or come up with a "Green Plan" based on significant renewable energy usage, much lower transportation fuel usage, much greater use of electrified rail (freight, intercity passenger, intra-urban zone rail), fewer sub-urbs, a constant or even shrinking population, and a adult, civilized way to have electricity customers pay for renewable electricity development and usage (and bribes to rich people via tax avoidance schemes does not qualify as "adult"). Sixteen nukes and CO2 pollution sequestration gone wild is a myopic, old fashioned nightmare that would no doubt bring tears of joy to the "too cheap to meter" delusionists that also brought us West Valley, NY. Besides, what communities were to be tagged as "IT" and get stuck with nukes for "neighbors"? Although this report never gave those locations, odds are, they would be as far away for NYC and the wealthy of NY State as is possible, placed on the Great Lakes coastline, given the prodigious thermal waste in need of a heat sink that nukes require.

Lastly, why was this report not centered on jobs creation. At present, there are over 1 million (probably closer to 2 million on a real basis) NY residents in need of a job. Those technologies that maximize in state job creation to supply/effect the transition of NY to a less pollution/more renewable energy basis should also have been given greater weight. This alone would have excluded nukes and the CCS approach. Given the tremendous need to transition from an overly-financialized economy to one more in balance with an industrial one, this failure is also significant. The required capital expenditures to transition from "now" to where we need to be, climate wise, are significant, but that investment also means employment and future job growth. Maybe some "downsized" people should be given jobs to come up with a better plan, as too many of those doing this project are evidently already employed, and can't comprehend what it is like to be rendered superfluous. And yet, what has been produced is an essentially superfluous report on a plan that if implemented, would leave NY an economic basket case, provide far too little job growth, and still not achieve near 100% CO2 pollution elimination.


Monday, January 10, 2011

A Buffalo Outer Harbor Plan

What to do with the Outer Harbor of Buffalo? Maybe this image might spark off an idea (from a mini-wind farm (but with commercial scale units) in Norway.

The Outer Harbor land used to be mostly owned by the City of Buffalo and some existing businesses (Cargill, Ford, some rail lines, etc), but as many of these businesses/plant went belly up or were abandoned, the City of Buffalo came to own more of them. NYPA bought on the cheap 11 acres to park the ice boom on, and the Army Corp of Engineers created some land by dumping toxic Buffalo River dredgings/sludge, which eventually became the Times Beach wetlands, next to the 32 acres of US Coast Guard land at the tip of the Outer Harbor. In fact, a lot of the Outer Harbor lands are filled in Lake Erie (usually slag from the steel factories, mixed in with Buffalo River dredged out stuff, and at one time, 6 acres of toxic waste mostly from Ford (paints, chrome, oils, metal shavings, garbage from the waterfront stamping plant, etc)). For many years Freezer Queen operated a food processing facility in that big white building next to the NFTA Small Boat Harbor, and the NFTA leased out the ex-Ford stamping plant to a food distributor/warehouse, and a small portion of it to Rich Products.

The Port of Buffalo was operated by the Niagara Frontier Port Authority (eventually becoming the NFTA), and much of this land was ceded to the NFPA/NFTA just before the opening of the Welland Canal did in Buffalo as a significant port. So much for that idea. The NFTA has been struggling to sell land/lease land DONATED to them by the City of Buffalo (for transportation purposes) and pocket the proceeds (profits) - how's that for the NFTA being a non-profit authority, and what are they doing in the real estate speculation/business development business, anyway? Why don't they hand this back to the City of Buffalo, like they were supposed to do, if they could not use it for "transportation purposes"?

By now, only a part of the warehouse on the waterfront, the US Coast Guard, the Sand Products depot/classifier unit and a couple of marinas on the City Ship Canal are used to the north of the Small Boat Harbor - there is lots of vacant land that is "going back to nature" in that region. Recently, the public was given some formal access to part of that area via a bike/walkway along the water, c/o the Niagara Power Project Settlement. So far, this seems to be a well received development. If that trend is continues, a waterfront park stretching from the US Coast Guard to the Freezer Queen Pier may develop. A proposal for the conversion of the Freezer Queen Building into a set of condos seems to have evaporated - another victim of The Great Recession - and the conversion of the NFTA warehouse/ex-Ford plant into a Nanodynamics venture capital emporium/business incubator also has gone "poof" with the bankruptcy and other legal problems of that company.

So, what about a "wind park"? That is, place commercial scale wind turbines along this windiest place in Buffalo, sort of like a string of 10 redwood trees (about the same size, height and girth wise) in this region, and make it "condo-proof" for at least a generation. Those would fit in nicely with the grass/woodlands/marshes that have been sprouting up on the northern part of the Outer Harbor. This would allow some fraction of the electricity made to pay for operation and maintenance of this region (repair the docks, mow the grass, plant trees as needed), but most importantly, it would keep this region as public space, and prevent this from diluting the real estate and commercial property values in the rest of the City. A sort of small version of Chicago's waterfront park. Or an urban version of the wind park at the Northwest corner of Prince Edward Island (PEI), where the Atlantic Wind Test Center, a park, a bird resting/breeding area, a nature center and a wind farm are co-located. See and A total of 27.6 MW (16 x V47 (660 kw, "small units") and 4 x V90 x 3 MW (big ones)) have been integrated into this park. Nearby (about 5 miles) in the town of O'Leary there is now a large wind farm (55 x 1.8 MW V80's).

Of course, PEI is much windier than Buffalo's Outer Harbor, but on the other hand, the wind resources on the Outer Harbor are commercial by US standards, the best in Buffalo, averaging around 7.07 m/s at 80 meter heights and 7.3 m/s or more at 100 meter heights. These also happen to be some of the best wind resources in NY State on land. And there is a huge market for this electricity; about 900,000 people in Erie County, and a bit more than a quarter million people in Buffalo. Placing a few wind turbines in this area will not power up Buffalo totally, but every bit helps, and besides, this is non-polluting electricity that would displace coal derived electricity made in Dunkirk, Tonawanda and Somerset, or else natural gas and/or nuke sourced electricity from somewhere in upstate NY.

In our region, the most famous example of a wind turbine integrated into an urban park is the Lagerwey 750 kw unit in Toronto, totally awesome, and VERY public (no hiding this one). In Europe, there are numerous instances of wind turbines placed on shorelines/coastlines/dikes, placed next to road or next to bikeways. Here is an example (going on 9 years old):

By the way, if you haven't seen the Toronto turbine, it's really easy to Google. It is also a big tourism draw for the City, and it is really photogenic:

So, where would these Buffalo waterfront wind turbines go? Well, some potential spots are indicated by the red dots on the Google satellite photo map below:

Not every one of these spots needs to be used, and there may be some other opportunities on land just a bit inland. Also, there is a big batch of land that is part of the Small Boat Harbor (just to the south of where the boats get parked) that would also be a great spot for a unit.

There are a few ways to do this, but for all of them, the key is that no state/local tax dollars need to be spent to pay for these - one way or another, electricity customers (all or just a few) will pay down the investment (major cost) and also the upkeep of them (minor cost). In fact, the City of Buffalo, NFTA and/or Erie County could actually do a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and agree to buy the energy output over a 20 to 25 year period at a fixed/defined price. In that way, private developers could install them, and lease payments/PILOT payments and or a percentage of the gross sales could fund park upkeep. The lower production cost way to proceed would be for the City, County, NFTA and/or State to issue bonds to finance them, get them installed and operate them; payments on the bonds would be done by taking the money once paid to polluting generators (coal, natural gas, nukes) and instead used to pay off these bonds. The private developers would (presently) get significant tax avoidance subsidies from some federal and State taxes, while the public route could benefit from an incentive known as REPI (Renewable Energy Production Incentive, worth 2.1 c/kw-hr for 10 years). But regardless, somebody has to make up for the taxes avoided, or for the REPI subsidy, and that usually implies poor and middle class people. But, that's the way that we do things in this country..... On the other hand, with a PPA, maybe a "no tax avoidance" arrangement could be made, but that would result in the true cost being apparent in the price. In the USA, virtually every form of energy is subsidized, so such a proposal would be quite unique.....

In the 2004-2005 era, a horrible plan for most people in this region was put forth to develop Buffalo's Outer Harbor. But, this plan would have been quite the meal ticket for SOME people and organizations, including:

a) Bankers financing this boondoggle.
b) Bond brokers (no doubt public debt would be created to help finance some of this private development).
c) Construction companies, urban designers, architects, etc.
d) Some construction workers, truck drivers, equipment companies (leasing/selling equipment).
e) Politicians and notably their political campaign committees, who would be able to legally shake down prospective or actual bidders, service providers, businesses, labor unions, construction workers for campaign contributions in return for a piece of the action, or a chance to get a piece of the action.
f) Those doing services and collecting fees on them (a wide and varied list), including those betting on the bonds going south in value (shorting the bonds) when this financial turkey imploded (derivatives, and derivatives on those derivatives).

In essence, it would have created a separate zone which rich people, almost all of them white people (they tend to be most of the rich people around here, after all) would have inhabited. There were something like 7 x 13 story glass enclosed condos, a professional basketball stadium, a convention center, and lots of canals carved through the area which the rich people could use to park their boats/yachts, or at least frolic in them during boating season. Also as part of this was more housing and business offices, like Buffalo needs more office space. And because there would be all this disposable income associated with the well off inhabitants and those attending the convention center/basketball stadium and various businesses, some associated bars and restaurants to cater to this newly assembled market would also be needed (like we need more of that in Buffalo, too). Actually, what Buffalo really needs are NEW customers for its existing underused office space, bars and restaurants; in the present zero sum arrangement, new additions get balanced by subtractions of existing businesses, until the balance between supply and demand is re-established.

Of course, those getting shafted would be local and state taxpayers and possibly bondholders when the project(s) fail(s) to generate the required revenues (which probably dumps this back onto taxpayers) to pay back those bank loans and bonds. That would have happened with almost 100% certainty, given that The Great Recession started happening in 2007, with a collapse in the housing industry/home sales/condo sales. Carl Palladino's government subsidized (via property tax avoidance, for starts) condo complex on the waterfront had a lot of trouble finding tenants - it may still be partly empty, and many of those were in the $500,000 to $1,000,000 segment. Imagine trying to sell those when 300 to 500 more of those were competing for the same tiny market of rich people willing to condo along Buffalo's waterfront (but on the "plus" side (marketing view only), at least those are at minimum, economically segregated housing arrangements). The over-saturated market for rich people condos would have sandbagged condo values, further increasing financial losses on sales (assuming there even were buyers for these). And there is no market for a new pro basketball team in Buffalo (we will be lucky to keep our hockey team, and what are the odds on keeping a money losing football team), except on a dreaming basis. The new convention center would also be competing with other established convention centers, and it would be located AWAY from existing hotels/restaurants/bars, which might mean existing ones can go bankrupt/out of business so that new ones (often corporate chains) can be built, until they too go out of business. And a convention center (a "centre" for that classy British spelling) always needs an adjacent hotel or three, to compete with the already super-saturated hotel market in Buffalo. Cute.

This zone would be effectively its own world, disconnected from less economically well off areas of the City, and obviously a lot of money would be spent on contractors and those they employ to build and provide the parts for this bit of urban waterfront, all requiring lots of gasoline (mass transit maybe for the hired help). The cost for this would be in the billions, and no doubt huge subsidies and tax exemptions would be at play. No doubt, the plans for this still exists down at 95 Perry Street in one of the empty office cubicles at the ECHDC building.

But, along came lots of reality, not the least of which is the Great Recession from the end of the George W. Bu$h era. NY State has no money to build this, subsidize this, and the same goes for Erie County, Buffalo and the Federal Government. But, what is evolving is a park of sorts, and bike/walking trails, all leading to and from Dug's Dive (the new one, not the legend of old). The housing and condo dreams have insufficient or no paying customers, nor banks to finance this (and also make huge profits via financing these tasty real estate dreams). After all, banks don't do risk any more, and especially really risky real estate developments anymore. Only the public is allowed to do such risk, and expected to eat the cost if it proves to be a financial hoser. Only most governments (especially NY State, Erie County, City of Buffalo) either are less than broke, or are attempting to appear to be so, constantly pleading poverty, especially when it comes to helping those impoverished as a result of a real unemployment rate in Buffalo north of 30%.

One in 3 who could work have no work in Buffalo, and thus no money stream from that work. As a result, the taxes collected from them aren't much, either. No wonder government revenues are so down in the dumps. Putting these people back to work in real wealth creating options might be a start to get out of that funky pit of economic poor performance. But creating massive public works projects whose goal is to make rich people-only infrastructure that essentially stops creating wealth/middle income jobs as soon as the construction stops...not so good an idea. And then when the bills come due, and sales of these things to rich people can't pay for the financing, who picks up the tab? The rich people who own the bonds, the banks who loaned the money for this boondoggle? Not likely - as they have friends in low and high places. Nope, poor and middle class people would get to eat those costs and do that most probably via the most regressive ways - a higher sales tax and higher property taxes. And what about tapping those who profit supremely well from the bets on those bonds going belly-up (the derivatives)? The "hedgies" doing those bets on bond payments (derivatives) get taxed at a flat 15%, and no Social Security/medicare taxes are charged on that income either. Real nice....

And then what about the depression in the value of commercial and high end residential property values, and the taxes that come from them in the rest of Buffalo, and maybe in other parts of Erie County? That means less tax revenues to tax revenue challenged local governments. And also losses to people and businesses who need to or try to sell their lower valued (and maybe "underwater" valued) properties. Maybe some of those people end up going bankrupt from the glut of real estate on the market, to be created by the Outer Harbor FIRE (Finance, Real Estate and Insurance) dream. I guess that would be the icing on the cake, the chocolate sprinkles on the cannoli. Yum.

As for me, I'd go with the park option, and possibly the wind park project. It seems so much more sensible, ecologically and financially speaking. Plus, in hot summer days, it's nice to cool off by the water, and that simple pleasure should not be reserved solely for the well connected rich, who might actually have one of our many governments/governmental entities buy a good chunk of the Outer Harbor for the wealthy. I don't know why there seems to be so much effort to sell off on the cheap or just give away our waterfront lands to those with big bucks and all the best social, economic and political connections (crossing all political party lines with the greatest of ease), and keep commoners away from the water, but the old plan of 2004-2005 was a great example of this tendency. Instead of investing in real wealth and job creating businesses and infrastructure, we get these schemes that seem more like welfare for the wealthy, paid for by the non-wealthy. But, looks like The Great recession of 2007-2011 (and beyond?) interceded, and every season, the trees grow a bit taller, the grasslands evolve towards forest, and more and more people discover Buffalo's waterfront as being a nice place to go for a walk or take out the bike and get some exercise. Plus, it's a great place to walk the dog when you get tired of doing a lap around Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park, and those summer lake breezes make this possibly when the heat and humidity make inland walking an exercise in sweating profusely. Yes, there really is a thing called Global Warming. And the general trend of ever hotter/more humid summers lasting longer, and winters being less cold, shorter, with less ice coverage on Lake Erie, and for a shorter duration is happening before our very eyes. Just another example of how the Beer-Lambert Law (–Lambert_law) and the Planck's Law ('s_law, alias Blackbody Radiation) combine to trump human laws and intelligence challenged politicians/business types who deny Global Warming is taking place.

Anyway, in conclusion:



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