Thursday, July 30, 2009

World Wildlife Foundation donations suspended

At the July 8-10, 2009 G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, Allianz (a global insurance company) partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation to deliver and publicize a report on how the 8 richest countries in the world are doing at reducing their greenhouse gases. Sounds good.

WWF/Allianz "does not consider electricity generated by nuclear power a sustainable option", an opinion shared by many. Their trouble was that any simple ranking of countries will show that nuclear power has made France the world leader in reducing greenhouse gases. Since WWF/Allianz doesn't want to promote nuclear power, they cooked the numbers.

They didn't lie. There have been a number of outraged comments about this report, but these folks did not lie. Their footnotes say specifically that numbers for France were "adjusted as if electricity from nuclear power was generated from natural gas." The report also includes, in footnotes, the numbers correctly calculated.

One of those same footnotes says that "without the adjustment, France would rank first with Germany." Unfortunately, this comment is not supported by either facts, or by the WWF/Allianz numbers. By any numeric measure, France is way ahead of the rest of the industrialized world.

Because I feel that this report is intentionally misleading, my wife and I are suspending our donations to the WWF until they amend their report to rank countries based on facts. We're also going to have a talk with a few friends who also donate to the WWF. We don't do business with Allianz, so there's not much leverage there.

Those of you who don't actually care that much about CO2 emissions or global warming can stop here.

The report ranks the 8 richest countries in terms of their "past, present, and future climate performance". Here I've listed their overall ranking, along with WWF/Allianz' calculation of their emissions per capita and per million dollars of GDP.
  1. Germany (12 tons/capita/year, 384 tons/M$ GDP)
  2. United Kingdom (11 tons/capita/year, 334 tons/M$ GDP)
  3. France (9 tons/capita/year, 276 tons/M$ GDP)
  4. Italy (9 tons/capita/year, 328 tons/M$ GDP)
  5. Japan (12 tons/capita/year, 367 tons/M$ GDP)
  6. Russia (16 tons/capita/year, 1140 tons/M$ GDP)
  7. United States (25 tons/capita/year, 567 tons/M$ GDP)
  8. Canada (24 tons/capita/year, 668 tons/M$ GDP)
France got dinged because they have not improved emissions much since 1990 (they'd already built most of their nuclear fleet by then). I notice they also got dinged for not having strong mandatory targets imposed on utilities to promote energy efficiency. The report fails to note that in France, saving electricity doesn't significantly reduce CO2 emissions, so there is no need for such mandatory targets.

The report completely failed to note that France is building new nuclear power plants on its borders to export more CO2-free power. Not only is this action going to cause more improvement in Germany's CO2 output than Germany's own utility policies, but it is also going to be profitable, which means that France is going to be able to do it AGAIN in a few years. Germany, on the other hand, is busy bankrupting itself with huge feed-in tariffs, and is already switching from expensive, imported aranthracite coal to cheaper domestic brown coal which emits more CO2 and other pollutants.

The United States clearly needs to clean up its act. Which country should we model our environmental policies after?

Germany: 51% of German electricity comes from coal-fired powerplants. They are building or planning another 26. These will add 23 gigawatts of production. Germany will be forced close its coal mines in 34 years when it runs out of coal, at which point their coal imports will peak until they will switch to imported Russian methane. Germany also produces 4.4 gigawatts from wind turbines. There is a lot of talk about wind turbines but the power comes and will come from coal.

France: France closed its last coal mine in 2004. 4% of its electricity comes from coal. 78% of France's electricity comes from nuclear, and produces no CO2. Most of the rest (11%) comes from hydro, and produces no CO2. France exports 18% of it's electric production, and most of that (5.9 gigawatts, more than $2 billion a year) is sold to Italy, which is one reason why Italy's CO2 outputs are low.

Bottom line: WWF/Allianz fudged the numbers to support a policy goal. That's wrong, and we're stopping our contributions until they fix it.

It's a shame, by the way. I liked some of the other stuff they were doing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why New Nuclear

Senator Alexander Lamar has a white paper which well summarizes how I feel about our desperate energy situation, and lays out a plan for how to fix it:

It does have a thought which was new to me, however: Russia, China and India, as well as a host of other countries, have already built out a fair bit of coal, and are beginning a large build of nuclear. If their nuclear build fails, they will fall back on coal, and nothing the US does will change the course of global warming. If their nuclear build succeeds and surpasses us, they will cement their existing lead in the next major source of energy, and they will end up owning the base of our entire economy.

And this base is enormous. The US GDP was almost $14 trillion in 2007. Generation of electricity, at about $40/MWh, was $170 billion that year. But that electricity sold for $90/MWh, for a total of $373 billion. Electricity sales are 2.7% of our entire economy.

And consider industries that are part of that industrial base. In 2007, the United States used 4.1% of our electricity (170 million of the 4156 million MWh) to smelt 23 billion pounds of aluminum. That aluminum sold for $26 billion. The aluminum smelters probably spent around $40/MWh for that electricity, so the juice was 26% of their cost of goods sold. Since aluminum is an easily transported global commodity, their profit margins are thin and small changes in their costs can lead to large changes in who makes the aluminum.

We need to own our energy supplies. We need our own large forge to build the reactor pressure vessels (right now we depend on Japan). We need American companies to build, own, and operate these reactors. And we need it now.

What we really need is to stop the Waxman-Markey cap&trade bill, and adopt Alexander Lamar's plan instead. Write your congressman.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My Response to the New York Times

Here's a link to the New York Times article "Combative Start to Senate Climate Hearings".

And, here's my response:

I’m a Californian, I vote, and I want more nukes in my state. I’m fed up with the high cost of electricity. I’m pissed off that we switched from making plastics with our natural gas to making electricity — and shipped our plastics industry to China. That’s not environmentalism, it’s offshoring, as a direct result of public policy that my representatives voted in.

My power company is not incented to make good decisions about the power mix: when natural gas prices rise, they pass along the cost. When they look at natural gas they see a lower capital cost, and so they get the same return on less capital. Fine for them, but we get stuck with power prices that whipsaw our producers out of business. Ever noticed how inflation is quoted without the volatile food and energy component? We chose to make our energy prices volatile!

What we need right now are projects like the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams: big, expensive government-funded projects that get lots of people working in well-paying jobs and deliver locked-in low priced power for a century or more. Nuclear plants are way better than hydro plants since they don’t kill fish (or anything else, for that matter).

I want to vote for a future in which energy prices are not volatile, and where the aluminum smelters and plastic plants come back to where we can regulate them and work in them. But I seem to be stuck between a choice between Green folks, who want to build temporary windmills which will kill our economy, and Conservatives who want to stick with imported fuels, which will kill our economy. Give me a third choice!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Fastest Freestyle Ever

The men's 400 meter freestyle relay at the Beijing olympics was amazing. The French team absolutely crushed the world record time, and the Americans squeaked past them. Right up until the last 50 meters, the French were in front.

Don't talk to me about Michael Phelps, the second-slowest guy on our team. Let's talk about Jason Lezak. Jason gets in the water at 2:38. (Watch the video here.) Look at his stroke compared to France's Bernard Alain. He looks pretty similar (to my untrained eye). And he turns in a time on that first 50m that is pretty similar: 21.50 versus Bernard's 21.27.

And then, after that last flip turn, Jason Lezak swims the next 50 meters in 24.52 seconds. Which sounds slow compared to those first 50 meters, but it's so fast compared to everyone else that he was one of only 3 guys in that race to swim in less than 47 seconds... and he beat the other two guys (both French) by 0.57 and 0.67 seconds. That's HUGE. He nearly did it in less than 46 seconds.

Watching back in August, it was immediately apparent to me that Jason changed his stroke after his flip turn. This morning I looked up the video on the internet, and it raises more questions than it answers.

First, Jason takes 34 strokes to Bernard's 42. It's not like Bernard is some short French dude -- at 6'5", the guy is actually an inch taller than Jason. Discounting the 7 meters that both guys got off their kick at the end, Jason managed to go 49.8 inches on each stroke, vs the paltry 40.3 that Bernard manages. And, since Jason is going faster, he's got more drag and so his hands should be slipping back more. Where did he come up with an extra nine inches?

For those last 34 strokes, Jason's form appears to go to hell. His timing is no longer even -- the delay after throwing his left arm forward is less than the delay after his right. Worse still, the change in timing has his left hand grabbing the air that he's blowing out, which has to be terrible for maximizing the purchase on the water the whole way back. Compare to Bernard, who efficiently vents smaller bursts of air under the left portion of his body while his left arm is airborne.

Notice something else that Jason is doing. He's ducking his head down after he takes a breath. And watch his right shoulder roll. When Jason pulls back with his right hand, he launches a portion of his torso up, over the water, and then when he pulls back with his left hand he is porpoising the right half of his body over that water.

Has Jason incorporated some of the body motion of the butterfly into his freestyle?