Monday, April 14, 2008

Get Your Priorities Strait

The following is a letter I sent to Obama's campaign last week after hearing that he and McCain both rejected invitations to the Science Debate 2008. Clinton's campaign did not respond at all.

All of the candidates have disappointed me on this, particularly in light of the "Compassion Forum" Obama and Clinton took time for Sunday. The following is what I sent, but the sentiment holds for all the candidates:

I am a signee to the petition for the presidential candidates to participate in a 2008 debate focused on science. As a signee, I received an email today saying that none of the candidates accepted, but also that Sen. Obama actively declined.

Your campaign has consistently been at the forefront on science and technology issues; this is in fact one of the many things that drew me to your candidacy. This is why it greatly confuses me and also disappoints me to see you decline this opportunity to bring science back to the limelight.

Our nation has suffered under a president who doesn't believe in science for the past eight years. It has been eight years of inaction on global warming. We have fallen eight years behind on stem cells advancements. And most importantly we have consistently for the past eight years fallen in international science education levels.

We need a president who will turn this situation around. I believe that you are the candidate to do it - so much so that I am currently a state level delegate for you hoping to become a national delegate from Missouri. Please take the lead on this.

Thank you for your time,
John

21 comments:

btu said...

Was there a reason for your use of "strait" versus "straight"?

As for science education in the US, well, we turn out a lot of good scientists and engineers. But none of them are black. Many are asian.

As for stem cell research, nothing bars private enterprise from stem cell activities. It will not hurt the US if government stays out of the stem cell picture permanently. As you should be able to see, once the government has its nose into science, the issue of morality creeps in. That's always bad news.

Moreover, for the last 80 years many people have pressed government to deny Evolution. Let's skip all that with respect to stem cell developments and let stem cell research remain outside government influence, where it is now.

Worse is the great canard of Global Warming. Even if temperatures are inching up a tiny bit, the impact is unknown. Personally, I think melting polar ice caps and a warmer atmosphere will result in more drinkable water and more water for agriculture where it is needed.

In Africa a million children die every year from lack of clean water. This death toll is ignored by almost every African leader. Meanwhile, the population of the world is soaring.

Thus, if you believe in doing good, then stop worrying about changes whose impact you cannot predict and tackle easily understood problems that we can solve today.

Of course no one wants to tackle real problems, like impure water, because that means taking action against corrupt governments around the world that refuse to provide basic health services to citizens.

Frankly, this problem is greatest in Africa, and the simplest solution is to assassinate the corrupt leaders who steal everything possible before they are removed in a coup by the next set of thugs.

Obama does not talk about real problems of today and the real solutions available now. Neither does Hillary.

In any case, it really does not matter what steps the US takes in response to the unknown impact of global warming. It does not matter because the world's population is growing rapidly and prosperity is increasing.

That means more and more people are acquiring cars and all the other energy-consuming devices that define prosperity. Thus, in the aggregate, energy use will continue to rise every year no matter what we do to contain it.

Thus, the best bet for oil is to use it till it's gone. Then the issue is settled. But by that time we will develop alternatives. The alternatives will include coal, solar, natural gas, wind, geothermal -- and the big one -- nuclear power.

John J. said...

To your first question, no reason beyond my poor use of the English language, which I am sure my wife will chastise me about later.

As for your points, we do turn out many good scientists and engineers, of all races, from our colleges. Our science education levels in grade, middle and high school is steadily dropping against foreign nations.

Nothing does bar private study of stem cells, except lack of funding. The fact that government funding cannot go to these studies prevents institutions from conducting the studies in the first place. This means we are steadily falling behind in this area. As for the moral issues "creeping" in, they are already there. Here in Missouri we have, for the past couple election cycles, been fighting constantly over this issue, and we aren't the only state.

The impact of global warming is not unknown: we have already lost hundreds of species, ecosystems are quickly shrinking for thousands of others, entire swaths of the ocean are dead directly because of global warming. The water from the melting polar ice caps is not becoming clean drinking water, it is mixing with the oceans and becoming (effectively) unusable. In fact, due to global warming, more palatable drinking water is becoming more difficult to access.

People are addressing the water issues, if you listen to NPR's Science Friday, you will hear about once a month a new group finding ways to access palatable water for the third world.

Global population is growing, and increasing energy consumption is a big issue. However, we are still the biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. We have the ability to stop that, but we are not directing our efforts to do so. Once we are able to provide energy alternatives we will be able to export them to the developing (and developed) world. Doing that would help our economy enormously and the energy/GHG crisis globally.

We don't need to use up all the global resources to reach this point. We could do it in five years if we put effort into it. We made it to the moon in less than 10 years with almost none of the technological ground work laid down, moving away from fossil fuels would be a cake walk. However, nay-sayers like you and John McCain would rather not.

btu said...

john j, US schools turn out many excellent scientists and engineers. But it is a simple fact that almost none of them are black. Meanwhile, blacks do not obtain PhDs in subjects outside of education and a couple of related fields. Often a few years will pass when no black receives a Phd in math, chemistry or physics.

Therefore, I doubt Obama will chance exposing blacks to the their lack of participation in science and engineering.

To make things clear, I am an engineering school graduate. The absence of blacks from the student bodies of engineering schools has been a subject of discussion forever. Science and engineering schools would like to boost enrollment, but it cannot happen out of goodheartedness. Without the foundation knowledge, any student will flunk out.

As for stem cell research, nothing stands in the way of US corporations funding their own research. If the return on investment seems high enough, they will fund it. Bio-tech companies raise money on Wall Street. If their technologies succeed, their stocks fly. If not, they disappear. No problem.

As for the impact of global warming, it is irrelevant that species have disappeared. Dinosaurs disappeared without any help from man. In other words, it is a simple fact that species come and go. Global warming or not, species will come and go.

The water from melting polar ice caps absolutely enters the atmosphere through evaporation. Warm air holds far more water vapor than cold air. This is a basic fact of thermodynamics, and a very useful fact for the advance of agriculture.

As for Third World water, there's only one solution that will bring meaningful change -- democracy. No democracy has water problems. Cleaning water is easy. But dictators don't bother. They know soft-headed foreigners will try to improve the water at their own expense, leaving the dictators to continue ripping off their countries. History says this will not change.

As for energy consumption, it's a one-way trip. It's going up. The population is expected to reach 9 billion in the next 40 years. No matter how efficient the US becomes, 9 billion people enjoying increasing prosperity will consume far, far, far more energy that today's 6.5 billion.

The worst part of your desire to change the world is the fact that to accomplish what you want, the most abusive and despotic government ever know would have to control the entire planet.

Billions of people have too many other problems to worry about the effects of combustion. Too many governments do not care either. And no matter what they promise, they will not comply, as non-compliance with far less onerous demands proves.

Meanwhile, the moon-shot example is the worst of all possible examples. It proves the impossibility of your dreams.

Putting a man on the moon took roughly ten years. That part is true. But it took the intense efforts of our smartest engineers and scientists and BILLIONS of dollars to put Neil Armstrong on the Moon. One man.

One ticket to the Moon cost billions. If we sent more men to the moon today, the cost would be far higher. We're now better at it, but it's not cheaper. In other words, performing a unique feat does not equal changing the behavior of every person on the planet.

Lastly your belief in the idea that we could end our use of fossil fuels in five years is miles beyond ridiculous.

The idea fails on every level. NOt least, it would mean the end of the airline industry. Probably the trucking industry too. Given your intent, GM, Ford and Chrysler would keel over in bankruptcy too, all of which would lead to vast unemployment problems followed by the failure of healthcare programs funded by the operations of these companies.

You might be a believer in electric vehicles, but no matter what you believe, the batteries for these cars hold so little energy that few people would want the cars for anything but trips to the store.

Today, the only meaningful alternative for fossil fuels is nuclear power. Solar power may eventually provide commercial quantities of electricity, but that's far in the future.

We'll get there, but solar and battery technologies are a long way from widespread success. Batteries are primitive and dangerous. The lithium-ion battery is considered the most promising for electric vehicles. But these batteries are dangerous when large enough to power the cars. The lack of safety renders them unusable for now. Their existence also introduces another problem -- battery disposal. The old batteries will become the new used-tire problem.

Mauigirl said...

Well said, I agree completely. I don't understand why they avoided it. They probably are afraid they will offend those voters who may not believe in science. But those voters aren't voting Democratic, so why not attend?

Mauigirl said...

Note, my comment was directed to the original post, not BTU.

In response to BTU, beyond the destruction of species, global warming has detrimental effects on growth cycles and other more complex systems that we rely on for food. Rising water levels could also be disastrous to low-lying areas. Holland could probably go under water entirely. Yes, these things have happened in the past but in reality not since Man has been around. My husband actually believes Mankind's genome is probably unstable and we could devolve if circumstances arose that favored it. Who knows what may be here a few hundred years from now? We may be gone altogether and dolphins and whales could rule the world, since it will have so much more water and they are already intelligent species. Perhaps they will be who evolves in a new climate. If that's OK with you, then we have nothing to worry about. I personally don't think Mankind would be any great loss overall but if others disagree then now is the time to do something about it.

Ironically despite my being a die-hard supporter of the environment, I do think at this time nuclear power is our only alternative until we figure out other ways of dealing with the energy problems. But in the long run, the waste generated by these nuclear plants would be the big problem and we would need to address it.

In the very long run, what we need to do is explore space so that we'll have a place to move to when we finish trashing this planet. Let's be honest - eventually there will be no more room here.

btu said...

mauigirl, some people believe that a meteor hitting the Earth destroyed the dinosaurs. Maybe yes, maybe no.

If we assume that's what happened then we can accept the simple fact that life on Earth can change when catastrophic -- non-evolutionary -- events occur.

If a meteor caused the extinction of dinosaurs, what might life of Earth have become if the meteor had flown harmlessly past the planet?

Would man have evolved? Would we have the climate we have today? Or would jungle, swamps and rainforests cover the planet?

Anyway, don't get your hopes up about leaving Earth. The physics of getting billions of people off the planet will stop any possibility of that. But it's possible we will throw some sperm cells and eggs into deep space, aiming them at a livable environment.

John J. said...

"Without the foundation knowledge, any student will flunk out." Exactly the point I was making in my statements about education. On the grade and high school levels we are falling behind the rest of the world. We need a president who will bring science education back to the forefront of society the same way Kennedy did during the space race. As far as Obama addressing the problem of lower black representation in higher education, he has already, so I don't know where you are getting the idea you are pushing here.

As for government vs. corporate funding of science, corporations will only put money in research that will make them money. This means things that will cost them money, especially by removing major sources or revenue, will be less funded than things like Viagra. Without the government funding of the 1960s (where government funding made up more than 60% of research funding), we would not have the satallite network we now rely on. There is also the question, when it comes to corporate funding of research, of conflicts of interest. These exist too in government funded research, but it is heightened when it comes to corporations.

It is not irrelevant that species are going extinct. Yes, the dinosaurs did go extinct without our intervention. I don't feel bad about that at all - it wasn't our fault and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it; it was natural. Same thing if a similar event happened today with an asteroid striking the Earth or something similar - there was nothing we could do to prevent it, it was natural. However, it is a scientific consensus that humans are likely a major contributor to global warming. This means that we are the reason these species are dying and these ecosystems are disappearing. WE are killing the planet (technically the life on it, but close enough for our needs) and most of us are not chosing to do the things that would stop it. There aren't any species moving into some of these areas that are significantly changing. Like I said previously - entire swaths of the oceans are dead.

Your statements about water don't change the fact that the water melting from the ice caps is not becoming usable. Some does enter the atmosphere, but most of it either goes directly into the ocean or falls as rain, largely on the oceans (71% of the Earth surface is water). Hot air does hold water better. The key word there is HOLD. Again we will have to expend large amounts of energy to extract it. The Sahara is not going to magically become a lush paradise again because the humidity there goes up a couple percent.

"No democracy has water problems." First, that's false, plus you're confusing association with causation. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba these aren't democracies and they don't have water issues. Georgia and Alabama had water issues for the past couple years, but I wouldn't call them dictatorships. Ethiopia is a democracy. Cleaning water is expensive, especially when you don't have access to water in general and those are the bottle necks. Yes, the problem can be enhanced by corrupt governments, but government isn't the only problem.

Energy consumption is going up, but it's where that energy comes from that can change. We can meet current and future energy needs through green tech expansion and advancements. Germany right now has 3% of their energy just from solar (13% total from renewables, I don't know if nuclear is included, or used). This is using solar cells that right now are about 10-15% efficient in a country where it is cloudy 2/3rds of the time. This also is largely made up of personal implementations. Imagine a set up like this in Nevada, particularly with improved efficiency in solar technologies on an industrial power supply set up.

And there are also plans that address both the energy and water issues. One project being proposed in north Africa would be a solar collector focused on a tower of saline water. The plant would funnel water through the tower, the solar collector would heat this to vapor which would then turn a turbine and as the water cools, it would move into the main water supply. This would create enough energy for the hosting country with enough left over to export back to Europe and create enough palatable water to supply a couple African nations.

But solar can't supply all the energy. Nuclear, wind, tidal and many other sources have their place. Even fossil fuels in a limited usage have their place. But we can't rely almost exclusively on resources that are quickly being used up. Coal and oil can't supply enough energy for 6.5 to 9 billion people over 40 years, especially with the growth of industry in the developing world.

As far as using plug in cars, they already exist. People drive them in California. GM and Toyota (I can't speak for Ford or Chrystler for certain, not to mention the many others) already have LI battery powered concept cars (the Volt is scheduled for release in 2010).

These technologies aren't decades away; they are only funding away. We know what we need to do, we have the technology (although it can and should improve), all we need is the infrastructure.

btu said...

john j, you've bought the hype.

The lithium-ion battery is years from commercial readiness. Anyway, I am well aware of electric vehicles; as an engineering student I did a study of EVs for my school, which was considering the purchase of an electric shuttle bus for the campus. Bottom line -- no go. The battery problem outweighed all advantages. Batteries have improved since I conducted the study. As hybrids, they are attractive to some buyers.

But on a real, economic basis they are more costly than a conventional gasoline vehicle. People can pretend they are "green" by purchasing a Toyota Prius, but in financial terms the buyers get a lousy deal. However, I'm sure they "feel" good.

As for public schools, there are many problems. But you are refusing to acknowledge that cultural issues and home life have far more effect on academic success than any other factor. Blacks and hispanics do poorly in school for reasons related to their lives outside school.

As I've mentioned, I have a degree in mechanical engineering. I also taught math briefly in NY City. Due to my personal experiences it is painfully obvious to me that no amount of money and no amount of teaching talent will improve the academic achievement level among blacks and hispanics.

The black and hispanic kids who come from homes where parents have a true understanding of education -- not the "get-your-ticket-punched-with-a-college-degree attitude" -- will do fine. But, even that segment of black and hispanic society produces almost zero scientists and engineers. This is a simple fact.

As for private funding of technology ideas goes, you simply have no knowledge.

Wall Street raises BILLIONS of dollars for speculative technologies on the theory that if you throw enough spaghetti at the wall a few strands will stick and earn enough to cover the losses on all the ideas that failed. This is a fact. I left engineering for Wall Street, so again, my comments are based on experience.

Here's an example -- Biodel. Stock symbol BIOD. Insulin related. It's a company to which I have a connection. The company has raised about $80 million in the last year to fund its Research & Development. Its technology is promising. Will it earn big bucks? No one knows -- yet.

Another example of a company to which I had a connection is Cell Therapeutics, symbol CTIC. Cancer related. The company raised possibly $200 million, but things have not worked out.

The point is this: Wall Street brings capital and ideas together. There are huge dollars looking for every opportunity imaginable. There are huge pools of capital in search of bio-tech ideas. People who think stem cell research is off-limits or unable to obtain funding simply do not understand how wrong they are.

As for satellites, well, private rocket companies around the world have been operating for years and years. Direct-TV satellites were launched by a Chinese rocket company and a French rocket company. Those two were the least expensive. Again, I was involved on the Wall Street side. My boss at that time was a guest at both launches -- one in China and the other in French Guiana in South America.

As for the extinction of dinosaurs by meteor crash, well, if you accept the theory that is the same as accepting that in the US we lose 40,000 people a year in car crashes, but life goes on for the rest of the planet.

A meteor hitting Earth is like a car crash. No one plans it, but accidents happen. But they can change the future. You assume that catastrophe will follow if we stay on our present course -- which, sorry to tell you, is pretty much what will happen. But you make predictions about eternity when you claim that certain areas of the planet are "dead." This is nonsense. At most the lifeless condition of some regions is temporary.

Meanwhile, meteors and other space objects are always flying into our atmosphere. Obviously these objects burn before hitting the surface of Earth. But a few big pieces hit the ground. In other words, another meteor like the one that killed off the dinosaurs will hit again. But probably not before we consume every drop of oil on the planet.

The amount of rain that falls is a function of the amount of moisture in the air. Warmer air holds more water. Hence, more water will fall from warmer skies. Fresh water, by the way. The stuff you can drink, purified the natural way.

As for converting the Sahara into a rain forest, that is something I would do, but that amount of meddling with natural processes strikes me as something you would oppose.

Like I said, no democracy has water problems. Of course to argue this point you claim there are some non-democracies that do not have water problems. But your argument is false.

ALL democracies have clean water. SOME non-democracies have clean water. In fact, MOST non-democracies have serious water problems.

Then there is your idea of "expensive." The impact of unclean water is many times more costly than the expense of water purification. You are simply repeating the words of dictators who are too busy stealing everything to build a humane society.

You also pretend that arguments over water rights in parts of the US are equal to the problem of disease-carrying water in most African nations where a million kids a year die as a result. There is no equivalence between these situations.

Your example of the solar-heated desalinazation and energy producing process in Africa is yet another example of a phony solution that is caused by the presence of a dictatorship.

Israel, once a desert, manages to supply its citizens with clean water. But, as always, the palestinians can't do the same. Why? Their idiotic government.

Anyway, you seem to think because YOU and some other idealists believe something is possible if we only work at it a few more years that that is enough reason for EVERYONE on the planet get in line and march toward your goal.

Humans don't behave that way. Unless forced at gunpoint. You can be sure the Cubans are dreaming of the day when they can all have air conditioning. But as long as they are stuck on their poor island prison, only a small percentage of buildings will have AC. There are 11-12 million people in Cuba who very much want to drive cars, have AC, travel by air to other countries, enjoy motor-boating, as well as doing all the other energy-intensive activities that define a prospering society.

You're dreaming about going against a part of human nature that is basically good.

Meanwhile, I will assume you try to be as green as you are able. Given your efforts, how much have you reduced your energy consumption? And how much energy do you consume?

John J. said...

"The lithium-ion battery is years from commercial readiness." - Yes, about 1 (see GM Volt referenced previously). Costs go down as products go main stream and become comoditized, ask anyone that works on computers.

Education has a number of issues, the one, and only one, I am interested in this letter is the value science education is given by our leadership. Cut the racist crap.

Wall Street will spend more money on things that will make them more money. They will spend less on things that are just generally good for the world as a whole.

Your talk about meteors is tangential to our discussion. The issue is that WE are causing global warming and global warming is causing the extinction of hundreds if not thousands of species. These facts are an accepted consensus of the scientific community.

Did you ignore the fact that Ethiopia has water issues as a Democracy? How about the drought Alabama, Georgia, Florida, etc. have been having for the past couple years?

"the [P]alestinians can't do the same. Why?" Because Israel controls the sources of water? Just maybe. The only major water source in the West Bank is the Dead Sea - not exactly drinkable; there isn't even that in Gaza. Historic Israel has always been very fertile in certain areas (ever hear the phrase "land of milk and honey"?) Modern day Israel has those lands, Palestine has the other areas. (Also, Palestine is a democracy, btw).

I'm not saying we need to take away or keep developing nations from getting new technologies. I am saying that through current advances and ones that are not far down the line, we can make these conveniences renewable. We can make them so they won't destroy the environment.

As far as my carbon footprint: I live less than five minutes from work and have made it a point to live nearly that close for the past five years at least. I drive less than 1000 miles a month on average. We have a car with better gas mileage than some hybrids. We eat food grown locally when available and we buy organic as much as possible. My wife and I have as large a garden as our 900 sq. ft. yard will allow. If we could afford it, our house would be powered by solar now, but since our power company won't buy back our surplus (and the fact that we just don't have the money) it isn't yet economically feasible. We still use as little electricity as we can and keep our energy bills (gas and electric) to around $100-$150. We recycle everything, including having our own compost pile.

Is there more I could do? Absolutely. If I had access to all the tools currently available, I could reduce my fossil fuel usage to just above 0 - that little extra bit being food not grown locally.

If you have any new facts to bring to this discussion, please do, but stop repeating the same falsehoods and disproven opinions over and over.

Troll feeding season is over.

btu said...

john j, here's some information about First Solar (FSLR stock symbol) which is probably the leading solar company. Note that it costs $1.23 to build a solar panel that can produce ONE WATT of electricity. In other words, this technology still costs a lot more than the combustion alternative:

"We design and manufacture solar modules using a proprietary thin film semiconductor technology that has allowed us to reduce our average solar module manufacturing costs to among the lowest in the world.

In 2007, our average manufacturing costs were $1.23 per watt, which we believe is significantly less than those of traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers.

By continuing to expand production and improve our technology and manufacturing process, we believe that we can further reduce our manufacturing costs per watt and improve our cost advantage over traditional crystalline silicon solar module manufacturers. Our objective is to become, by 2010, the first solar module manufacturer to offer a solar electricity solution that can generate electricity on a non-subsidized basis at a cost equal to the price of retail electricity in key markets in North America, Europe and Asia.

We manufacture our solar modules on high-throughput production lines and perform all manufacturing steps ourselves in an automated, proprietary, continuous process. Our solar modules employ a thin layer of cadmium telluride semiconductor material to convert sunlight into electricity. In less than three hours, we transform a 2ft × 4ft (60cm × 120cm) sheet of glass into a complete solar module, using approximately 1% of the semiconductor material used by other manufacturers to produce crystalline silicon solar modules.

Our manufacturing process eliminates the multiple supply chain operators and expensive and time consuming batch processing steps that are used to produce a crystalline silicon solar module.

We have long-term solar module supply contracts (the “Long Term Supply Contracts”) with twelve European project developers and system integrators that in the aggregate allow for approximately €4.5 billion ($5.9 billion at an assumed exchange rate of $1.30/€1.00) in sales from 2008 to 2012 for the sale of a total of 3.2GW of solar modules.

Our customers develop, own and operate solar power plants or sell turnkey solar power plants to end-users that include owners of land, owners of agricultural buildings, owners of commercial warehouses, offices and industrial buildings, public agencies, municipal government authorities, utility companies, and financial investors that desire to own large scale solar power plant projects.

In order to satisfy our contractual requirements and address additional market demand, we are expanding our manufacturing capacity with the construction of four plants — each with four production lines — at our Malaysian manufacturing center.

In August 2006, we expanded our Ohio plant from one to three production lines. In April 2007, we started initial production at a four line manufacturing plant in Germany, which reached full capacity in the third quarter of 2007. Also in April 2007, we began construction of plant one of our Malaysian manufacturing center. In the third and fourth quarters of 2007, we began construction of plants two and three, respectively; and in the first quarter of 2008, we began construction of plant four.

We expect plant one to reach its full capacity in the second half of 2008; plant two to reach its full capacity in the first half of 2009; and plants three and four to reach full capacity in the second half of 2009.

After plant four of our Malaysian manufacturing center reaches its full capacity, we will have 23 production lines and an annual global manufacturing capacity of approximately 1012MW based on the fourth quarter of 2007 average run rate at our existing plants.

John J. said...

BTU, this is the internet, we use these things called "hyperlinks" to share information. Please use some etiquette and give a summary with a link to the larger piece rather than quoting the whole prospectus.

If this is the same company I did research on just a minute ago, the cost of electricity from their products is $0.30 per kWh (when talking about energy output, most people talk about cost per kilowatt hour, not cost per one watt).

They also drive my point home. According tho them, and I have seen this number all over the place, solar power will reach price parity with coal, oil, natural gas, etc. by 2010, two years from now.

btu said...

john j, a few other points:

There is no "Palestine". You have fallen for the muslim nonsense that has allowed you to believe that a region with no political sovereignty is a real country. "Palestine" is like the North Pole. We all know where it is. But it's not a country.

Worse is your idea of a democracy. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was -- for all the years that Yassar Arafat controlled it -- the only party that presented itself as a legitimate leadership of the people who call themselves Palestinians. However, the PA was always a cover for terrorists, like Hamas.

Now, the Gaza Strip, which once pretended it was governed by the PA, is run by Hamas. Hamas seized power at gunpoint. Moreover, the Hamas charter states that the destruction of Israel is its chief goal.

It is impossible to claim that these people live in a democracy when one portion of the population accepts the presence of the PA and the other portion has rejected all appearances of democracy to follow an avowed terrorist group that's main reason for existence is to destroy the neighboring country.

Israel, by the way, provided much of the support for the so-called Palestinians. Israel provides the water and electricity to the Gaza Strip because the muslims are totally incapable of managing their own affairs. Please notice that NO muslim nations are willing to help the Palestinians.

Egypt built a wall to keep Palestinians out long before Israel began building its security walls. The irony is that the Gaza Strip was once part of Egypt. But unlike most fights over territorial control, Egypt was happy to give the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. That's how popular they are.

Meanwhile, your Land of Milk and Honey comment was good for a laugh. I don't think Old Testament expressions offer an accurate description of the region's climate and landscape.

You also show you do not understand how capitalism works when you comment about Wall Street.

Every technical advance you dream of is in the sights of Wall Street. Money is available. This is "risk capital". The money spent on good ideas. If an idea is "good" it will yield enough profit.

For example, supermarkets earn low profits. But there is plenty of Wall Street money for them.

There is also something else to consider, which you probably do not know. Many wealthy Wall Streeters have funded inner-city schools. Their own money. Others pay private school tuition for promising minority kids. But these efforts get little attention from the press.

Unfortunately, the results of these efforts are not good. A Huge percentage of the kids still fail.

As for your concerns about science education, well, science and math are subjects that most people don't like because there really are wrong answers.

As I know you know, science, engineering and math are not subjective subjects. They are fact-based and driven by one's ability to handle the abstract. Hence, students know exactly where they stand with respect to their knowledge of these subjects. Most don't like what they discover.

Meanwhile, only a small percentage of Americans study science and engineering at the college level. It's always been this way. If we want to increase the numbers, we must have more citizens who see these areas as the areas of opportunity. Frankly, the easiest way is through immigration.

The best science and engineering schools in the world are in the US. However, the way some people gripe about US education, you'd think Americans don't go to these schools. But these schools are flooded with applications, and they come from kids with super high SATs, often perfect math scores. Thus, there is a lot of lunacy mixed in with the complaints.

First, of course, is the fact that reporters are absolutely incapable of handling numbers.

Anyway, almost everyone I know is good with numbers and abstract theory.

btu said...

john j, the information I gave you about First Solar comes from its 10-K, the official SEC document filed by every public company once a year. No hype is permitted in SEC documents. Misleading statements are a criminal offense.

Hence, if First Solar says it costs $1.23 to make enough solar paneling to produce ONE WATT of power, that's an accurate statement. The document does NOT state the cost as $1.23 per WATT-HOUR. That would be irrelevant in the circumstance.

John J. said...

I didn't say it was inaccurate; I said it was misleading when comparing costs to other energy sources.

In order to compare any two numbers, they have to be in the same units. It would be like saying an Escort can go 80 miles per hour but a Camry has a life time of 200,000 miles.

btu said...

john j, you said...

If this is the same company I did research on just a minute ago, the cost of electricity from their products is $0.30 per kWh (when talking about energy output, most people talk about cost per kilowatt hour, not cost per one watt)."

Then you mentioned units and that comparisons must be made on the basis of comparability -- not apples and oranges.

You are right and this is the essence of what you have misunderstood about the misleading verbiage about solar power.

Fist Solar does not "sell" energy. It sells the black box that performs the conversion of one form of energy to another. That's the first point.

You spoke of kilowatt-hours and watt-hours, and then spoke of "energy output." But this is part of your mistake, and most people make this mistake because they don't know the difference between Energy and Power.

A Watt is a unit of Power (energy/time). A Watt-Hour is a unit of Energy (capacity to perform work). But in one sentence you equated the term for Energy (kWh) with Power (energy output). Energy Output implies Energy supplied per unit of time. That equals Power. On the other hand when you write of Power produced over a period of time (kWh), you are back to discussing Energy.

The information about First Solar's cells that I copied from the company's SEC documents is the information that matters.

Maybe you are thrown by the fact that we are discussing an energy-conversion device rather than a barrel of oil which will disappear when combusted. The solar panel is the power station. Not the fuel tank.

The numbers on which you have focused are numbers that show the final costs of energy to First Solar customers AFTER they add in all the special tax breaks and incentives and subsidies that come with using solar devices.

In other words, those numbers equate to your utility bill. But they tell you nothing about the cost of building the power station.

Thus, the real cost of energy for customers -- the expense a user would incur if there were no subsidies or special deals -- is much higher than the number you quoted.

One of the shortcomings of the First Solar product -- and all solar panels -- is the scarcity of the chief element necessary for the manufacture of the devices. Tellurium.

Unlike sunlight, this key ingredient is not free. Thus, as solar panels multiply, the demand for the key element will rise -- and so will its price. That begs the question of how much Tellurium exists in the world, which is no different that the question of how much oil remains. Meanwhile, the countries with large deposits will become the new middle east if solar panels become competitive.

You said:

"They also drive my point home. According tho them, and I have seen this number all over the place, solar power will reach price parity with coal, oil, natural gas, etc. by 2010, two years from now."

First, coal is cheap and it is a domestic product. Second, natural gas is also a domestic product, but not as cheap. Third, in a competitive economy, prices reflect market forces.

Thus, if the energy in a barrel of oil costs $100, then the solar guys have to sell the same amount of energy for a little less if they want to get customers. At this point, they are nowhere near that goal.

But even if solar energy costs drop enough to compete, there is the issue of profitability. First Solar will NOT sell energy for half the price of oil if it can sell energy for 90% of the price of oil. The company is already scrambling to meet demand for its products. In fact, the biggest risk for the company is the possibility that it cannot deliver solar panels fast enough. That sounds like a dream situation, but it isn't.

Meanwhile, if solar panels proliferate, and oil use declines as a result, the price of oil will also drop, which means the cost of energy from both sources will remain about equal.

I think people dream of one form of energy replacing another without regard for real-world economics.

The people in the world who can least afford to see the consumption of oil and the price of oil decline are the oil nations of the middle east. Oil is the only product exported from the middle east. Without oil revenue, the economies of the oil nations would collapse.

Hence, they would take any necessary step to keep revenue flowing into their treasuries. In other words, OPEC would gladly reduce its official price to optimize cash flow.

John J. said...

Your circular logic has made you dizzy.

When discussing new plants to produce the power we need to meet, it is the cost per kWh that is most important. It is a different matter when discussing converting current power plants to new energy. Long term, that does need to be a goal.

Also, I believe there need to be subsidies of green energy. That's what I have been calling for for a long time.

"in a competitive economy, prices reflect market forces." Exactly, which is why solar power dropping in cost (especially with targeted subsidies and tax deductions) will cause the market to go toward that instead of coal, etc. which is increasing in cost. They will reach this in 2010 at the latest.

"Meanwhile, if solar panels proliferate, and oil use declines as a result, the price of oil will also drop, which means the cost of energy from both sources will remain about equal." Actually, that means that the use of both will reach parity, while the cost is determined by the technology supporting green energy. If it follows Moore's Law, like almost every other technological advance, it will be impressive to watch.

btu said...

john j, you said...

"When discussing new plants to produce the power we need to meet, it is the cost per kWh that is most important."

No. Incorrect. You're making the same mistake again. Plants are built on the basis of the Mega-Watts (kilowatts) of power they can produce. Not the Energy figure. You've got to get this part straight before you can discuss the derivative issues.

You said...

"It is a different matter when discussing converting current power plants to new energy. Long term, that does need to be a goal."

It's all about the costs. The issue is the form of power in which we invest -- and the costs the decision brings. At this point, green is truly green -- costing more green than fossil fuels.

You said...

"Also, I believe there need to be subsidies of green energy. That's what I have been calling for for a long time."

In other words, you want government to get into the act. That's a guarantee you will get the same poor quality as you see in public schools. As you probably know, the government already gives subsidies to ethanol producers and hits imported ethanol with a huge tariff. Result? Corn-related food costs are rising rapidly with no end in sight. But that's what government intervention in markets ALWAYS produces. Skewed markets.

You said quoted me and added...


"in a competitive economy, prices reflect market forces." Exactly, which is why solar power dropping in cost (especially with targeted subsidies and tax deductions) will cause the market to go toward that instead of coal, etc. which is increasing in cost. They will reach this in 2010 at the latest."

I said "competitive markets" and you gave me a non-sequitur response pointing to subsidies and tax deductions. You do not believe in competitive markets. If you think you do, then you should check the definition of "free markets." Your plans are definitely anti-competitive.

You quoted me and added...

""Meanwhile, if solar panels proliferate, and oil use declines as a result, the price of oil will also drop, which means the cost of energy from both sources will remain about equal." Actually, that means that the use of both will reach parity, while the cost is determined by the technology supporting green energy. If it follows Moore's Law, like almost every other technological advance, it will be impressive to watch."

Nothing about solar technology suggests price drops like Moore's Law. Nothing. IN fact, no one with any understanding of solar energy and its conversion to electricity would suggest such a pace is possible.

You seem to forget that a fixed amount of sunlight hits the Earth every year. That will not change. Thus, we know the total amount of solar energy striking Earth. Of course we can't use all of it for human purposes if we expect the planet to remain habitable. We can't cover the entire planet with solar panels. Thus, the "available" solar energy is much less than believers think.

On the other hand, power demand will increase due to increasing numbers of people on Earth. And, power demand will increase along with prosperity.

Your own energy use -- your annual kilowatt-hours (oil, natural gas, electricity) may stay low, but as the poorer nations catch up with the US, you will see that if everyone on the globe used energy at your rate, the aggregate consumption would show huge, huge increases.

Your arguments contain the core idea that somewhere there is a free lunch. When it comes to energy, engineers and scientists know this cannot be.

Your connection of Moore's Law to solar energy shows that you've got the relationship backwards. With solar energy, engineers want to grab AS MUCH solar energy AS POSSIBLE and convert it into another form of energy -- electricity.

The semiconductor concept is entirely different. The opposite. Semiconductors put the LEAST AMOUNT of energy possible into the job of flipping on-off switches.

One technology seeks to maximize. The other aims to minimize.

Meanwhile, even if this analogy were appropriate, it fails to acknowledge that data centers are now some of the biggest energy consumers in our economy. We've got so many electronic devices that we now expend a lot of energy to keep them stable.

John J. said...

I'm only going to address one topic on this because I am getting tired of going around and around with someone who has a clear stake in continued use of commodities.

You completely misunderstand Moore's Law. The law states that the number of transistors that will fit on a chip will double every 18 months. This is nothing to do with power consumption. This does lead to an effective doubling of the amount of computer power these chips can contain. In other words, an increase in the amount of (computer) "power".

The reason this applies to solar panels is because current efficiency of these panels is roughly 10-12% (some prototypes are in the low 20s if I remember correctly). This efficiency will increase at a steady rate that I believe will be comparable to Moore's Law. As that happens price per kWh (and MW) will plummet.

btu said...

john j,

As I mentioned, I have a degree in engineering which required taking several courses in electrical engineering, including microelectronics. I know all about Moore's Law. The point you miss is the one that matters most to you.

The first computer -- ENIAC -- and its offspring, were filled with heat-producing, energy-consuming vacuum tubes. But there were only a handful of these computers. They generated huge quantities of heat -- wasted energy.

Even though today's computers are -- individually -- millions of times better than the originals, the new computers, in the aggregate, consume millions of times more energy than the handful of early machines. As I said, data centers are so energy-intensive the United Nations holds environmental seminars about reducing their energy consumption. I've attended them.

The energy consumption issue for millions of computers is the same as the total energy consumption issue regarding the 9 billion people populating Earth in 2050 who will consume more energy than 6.5 billion do today -- no matter how efficiently we operate individually.

Next, you said solar panels are 10%-12% efficient. Since no energy conversion process is perfect, the efficiency of solar panels cannot possibly exceed 99%. Of course, it will never get to that level, but let's pretend for a moment.

If we're at 12% now, the next iteration brings us to 24%, then 48%, then 96%. That's it. That's the limit. Three iterations.

But the price will not plummet, as you believe. Why should it? Solar panel makers will maximize profits like any other company. That means solar panel makers will have to price their product to cause fossil fuel users to switch.

The US government is not going to subsidize one industry enough to destroy another industry. Solar panel subsidies will disappear when companies can operate profitably without government help.

You said...

"This efficiency will increase at a steady rate that I believe will be comparable to Moore's Law. As that happens price per kWh (and MW) will plummet."

Semiconductor companies compete with each other. They are not competing against adding-machine companies that control most of the market for data processing.

Solar panel companies have a miniscule slice of the power-generation market. It will grow slowly because no utility company will convert to solar energy for many reasons, most obviously because demand for power goes on 24 hours a day, not just during daylight hours.

Hence, the buyers of solar panels will be those who can accept unreliable power generation.

You need to learn more about economics. When the US government places a tariff on an imported product, the US manufacturer is then able to RAISE the price of its product by an amount almost equal to the tariff on the imported product. Tariffs DO NOT lead to LOWER prices.

By the same logic, solar panel makers will price their product just below the price of fossil fuel alternatives. They will NEVER sell solar panels at a huge discount from fossil fuel alternatives.

However, as manufacturing costs fall, the solar panel companies will earn larger and larger profits. If you think solar panels will sell for a slight premium over manuufacturing costs while oil is a major energy source, you are mistaken. The solar companies want oil to remain expensive. High oil prices ensure high solar profits.

Hence, if you really want to see the price of solar panels fall, then you must support the expansion of oil drilling in all US territories. Solar panel prices will fall along with oil prices. On the other hand, solar panel prices will rise if oil prices increase.

You should look at the Income Statement of First Solar. Due to the generous subsidies, the company is quite profitable. The stock is flying. It's trading between $250-$300 a share, way way up over the last couple of years. The increase in the stock price shows that investors expect much higher profits and hence, a much higher stock price.

John J. said...

Congratulations on the use of the Gish Gallop. You throw out too many logical fallacies and I am too tired of this conversation to bother with them all.

Suffice it to say, you can naysay all you want, this country will HAVE to move away from fossil fuels in the next 50 years at the maximum, and solar, along with all the other green energy alternatives will get the subsidies to do it.

You can respond to this if you have to get the last word in Slapps, but I'm done with this conversation.

btu said...

john j,

The Gish Gallop. Very funny. Too bad it doesn't apply.

Gish makes disputed -- probably false -- claims about the PAST.

You, with your belief that humans will behave according to your model in the future, have simply turned his game from looking backwards to a game of looking forward.

Meanwhile, oil is finite. Thus, it is a FACT that Earth's increasing population of humans will consume the diminishing reserves of fossil fuel. The natural process needs no government intervention to skew the process. Unfortunately, governments all over the world -- governments with very different agendas -- have their hands in the game.

You can be sure the governments of the oil states in the middle east want to keep the oil revenue rolling in as long as possible. Those countries will not commit economic suicide by pricing themselves out of business.

Meanwhile, you do not seem to understand that the US government does not fund one industry to destroy another. The government will not force taxpayers to subsidize solar energy until the oil industry collapses. That is as far from capitalism as it is possible to get.

The government will give a jump start to some promising activities or technologies. But we do not finance one segment of our economy to give it the power to destroy another.

Of course every business and industry wants government protections and special advantages. In economics there's a term for it: rent-seeking. Getting special favors from the government -- like tax-payer subsidies.