The daunting task of energy education perfectly illuminated by the stupidest news story of the year

Another year of drawing attention to energy literacy draws to a close, with a bleak reminder of what we’re up against. In the news recently was a popular item that displays the immense challenge of getting the general public to understand complexity.

First, and by way of analogy, let’s say you were at a huge convention with 5,000 people milling around the floor, mingling. You know two of them. One happens to be near the back of the room, the other near the front, near a stage. Everyone is flitting about randomly. You climb up onto that stage, and watch your two friends mill about. At some point, though separated by the entire length of the convention centre, the two people cross your line of sight at the same time, one appearing to be right next to the other, and that proximity isn’t real – it’s an illusion caused by the fact that your line of sight places them in the same linear path.

Would you run around the stage flapping your arms, getting people to come look at your observation? Do you take a picture and post it on Twitter, with a message to the effect that Hey look, from where i was standing it looked like my friends were close together?

No, you’re not an idiot. But someone sure the hell is. I refer you to “The Great Conjunction”, hailed as a “once-in-a-lifetime illusion” by such dwindling intellectual stalwarts as Reuters.

What happened was that there was a “near convergence  of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn”. No, their orbits didn’t become one. What happened was that, from our singular vantage point in this infinitely large universe, two celestial bodies that we’ve chosen to name due to proximity appeared to be in line with our point of observation. And because it happens only infrequently, this is “news”.

And we want to try explaining propane to these people? Or energy reliability? Or explain how hard it is to build anything big these days? Not a chance.

That’s not to say there isn’t beauty in small things, or stargazing, or looking at trees and sunsets and rocks. Of course there is. But when an illusion that even a five year old isn’t dazzled by makes the news, it is easy to see the quagmire we’re in.

We see the same forces of dingbat in the financial world, time and time again. Tesla is now worth more than most other car companies combined, and has only ever become profitable by selling green credits. The tech bubble is similar to the dot-com boom of 1999, but memories fade within a year, never mind two decades. John Kenneth Galbraith said it well: speculative bubbles keep forming because “built into the speculative episode is the euphoria, the mass escape from reality, that excludes any serious contemplation of the true nature of what is taking place.” Hoo boy, did he nail that.

2020 was a write off in so many ways, and was apparently in energy education as well. The forces of mass euphoria have grabbed the wheel, and, indeed, seem totally devoid of any serious contemplation of what is taking place. Many, many good initiatives are indeed happening around the world in terms of innovation, efficiency, and awareness of environmental footprints, but the paths chosen aren’t going to achieve what proponents think they will. Energy consumption rises in lockstep with human development, and we will need all forms of energy to meet those needs.

We can hope that 2021 is the year that lights bulb goes on. But it’s going to take more than pointing out facts – the world is going to need something as silly and irrelevant as The Great Conjunction to grab their attention. I have no idea what it is, but it will happen.

Happy holidays everyone.

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20 Comments

  1. Rand West says:

    Tesla has an enormous market valuation, but what it’s actually ‘worth’ is the tricky question. They do have some world leading engineering, but in the words of Grand Moff Tarkin, “I think you overestimate their chances!”

    Certainly it’s a valuable company, but to expect that it would someday, ever return a half trillion dollars in dividends at 2020 dollar valuation, after tax? Really?

    I imagine that early stockholders *feel* differently about the company than its early customers. Watching an investment double in value several times over since late 2018, would feel a lot different than watching the market value of a new Model 3 depreciate by half over that same two years.

    The electric cars do work, even in a cold winter, and are improving constantly, so that part is real. Other companies are building decent servicable electric cars and heavy trucks with reasonable range, so that’s real too.

    Like

    • Terry Etam says:

      EVs do work for sure and are perfect as city runabouts, although the challenges for wide scale adoption for apartment/condo dwellers seem pretty huge. I’ve been a Musk/Tesla fan since their first vehicle, the modified Lotus! But the hype is nuts. I read one Tesla booster that owns a bunch of stock in a fund saying they expected Tesla to have 30 percent of global market share by 2030. That’s 30 million vehicles/yr. Toyota does 10.

      Like

  2. Craig Austin says:

    A significant portion of our population believes that a solar powered fan aimed a wind powered spotlight aimed at the solar panels is a viable idea.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Rand West says:

      I’m often surprised by how many people think an electric car must be able to charge itsslf “once it gets going, surely”

      Or that ask what I do when the battery runs out, as if there’s some secret power source.

      Or the people posting on EV forums (usually from near the Equator) that winter range loss “can’t be that much”

      Or that even coal electricity power to electric cars is cleaner “because coal power plants are 40 percent efficient and a gasoline car isn’t much over 25”

      When I ask these budding online environmental engineers about their personal experience with an electric vehicle or solar power, they often have never looked at the numbers themselves, and don’t understand how electricity and energy work. But they do vote, so explain to as many as will listen.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. John Chittick says:

    In the seventies, I subscribed to ‘Access to Energy’, a monthly newsletter put out by Dr, Peter Beckman. Emeritus Professor of electrical engineering at Bolder, Colorado. He pointed out the insurmountable physics-based limitations on wind and solar which make those options little more than distractions for the mal educated (or off-grid mini solutions). Other than great strides in molten salt thorium reactor technology as well as horizontal drilling and fracking, what has changed mostly is in the ascent of the institutional left and its mergence with the deep green movement. Corporate and academic rent seeking has exploded on the scene to capture the bounty of such evolution. We know the direction we are being politically pulled by the mindless masses and it isn’t a good one.

    What makes this most frustrating is that whereas those same masses could use a dose of starvation and reality-inducing poverty, it is the legacy of wealth and prosperity from inexpensive access to energy along with massive levels of politically inspired public debt that is keeping them comfortable in their temporary state of ignorant bliss. The ignorance might not change much but the comfort level certainly will.

    Merry Christmas

    Liked by 2 people

    • Terry Etam says:

      “it is the legacy of wealth and prosperity from inexpensive access to energy along with massive levels of politically inspired public debt that is keeping them comfortable in their temporary state of ignorant bliss” – perfectly said. China+India+Africa = ~4 billion people. They will take any for of energy they can get, and it will be “all of the above”. THe west’s ethnocentricity is appalling, and getting worse as urbanization deepens. I’ve heard people outraged that kids in schools are exposed to footage of animals eating other animals. No concept of reality. Same as energy.

      Like

  4. dcardno says:

    I may have told this story before – my apologies if so. I have an acquaintance who drank the kool-aid on EVs five or six years ago and bought one. You may know the type – evangelical, a virtue-signaller, and unbearably smug about how cheap it is to “gas up.” He gets a little defensive when I mention that it must be nice to drive on the nice roads that the rest of us are paying for, or that eventually the government will come for its missing tax revenue – but he’s generally not that self-aware. He also doesn’t mention the time he and his wife were stranded on the highway due to an error in range estimation (I suspect they passed lots of gas stations, but no charging stations, or didn’t want to spend the time required to charge).

    My back of the envelope calculation is that conversion of the BC light vehicle fleet will require between 8 and 10 Site-C scale resources, depending on how efficient you assume current ICEs to be, So I asked him one day, what he thought of Site-C? He was quick to respond: “Oh, it’s a horrible project. They should never have built it – we’re losing great farmland, the First Nations are against it, it’s too expensive…” etc. I told him my calculations – We’d need at least eight similar dams / powerhouses for full (light) transport electrification.

    He blithely assured me that we could make up the difference by improving efficiency! On most subjects, he’s not a stupid guy – on energy, he is a certifiable moron. Unfortunately, on energy, there are more morons than we can deal with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dcardno says:

      Sorry – a small correction. Light vehicle electrification needs between 8 and 12 Site-C resources, not 8 to 10. My point still stands 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Terry Etam says:

      Right! And the morons are running energy policy! Funny too how they don’t like to talk about range anxiety and what happens if charge runs out on a highway. Imagine hitting the ditch in a snowstorm, or even stopping on the side of the road, and draining the battery. No one will stop by with a gas jug to save you.
      A guy I know bought a Tesla because they were the cool thing, and it drove him nuts. He headed to Invermere from Calgary, about 3 hours, sure he had lots of charge. Not too far off the TransCanada he got a warning – slow to 70 km/h if you want to get to the next charging station. On that two lane road, that’s suicide. Then a few miles later got another warning to turn off the A/C. He sold it after 3 months to another guy, who sold it after 3 months for an Audi. They can work for sure! But not for everyone.

      Like

      • Rand West says:

        Your friend could have spent 15 minutes at the Tesla charger in Canmore, and made Invermere with no problem.

        It definitely takes more planning to make long trips in an electric car, esoecially when going off the beaten track, but there’s a lot more charging locations in Alberta now, than just a couple years ago.

        That said, our other car is a plugin hybrid. We could make Winnipeg or Hay River on a full tank, and the tank stays full until we go out of town, because the engine doesn’t start up for the first 30 km.

        But the California Tesla shareholder types don’t understand. And they think the new Tesla truck is going to tow a camper 500 miles. Uhhh… no. Not even 500 KM.

        Like

      • Terry Etam says:

        All true. He said the range anxiety drove him crazy though. Always watching and always worried.

        Like

      • Rand West says:

        Electric cars are a fairly good solution to not a very big part of the worldwide CO2 emissions question.

        I think the total is something like 7% of world emissions come from passenger cars.

        Sorry Greens, most emissions are from making electricity and heating things, and nuclear power is probably best at those.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Woodporter says:

    “Energy consumption rises in lockstep with human development”

    That point is the foundation upon which all discussion about energy must reside. It is rather rare that I read this, so I commend you for making this point. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Craig Austin says:

    6 CO2 + 6H2O—-light–> C6H12O6 +6O2
    Until someone points out a pollutant in the most important chemical reaction for life on earth, I will continue to believe that CO2 is the gas of life. All attempts to reduce it are attempts to control and manage people, not the weather and certainly not the climate.

    Like

    • Rand West says:

      If all hydrocarbon fuels were pure, and all combustion complete, it would indeed be hard to object. It’s almost as if the carbon tax is needed to fund government, since incomes are falling?

      Combined cycle gas turbines are probably the cleanest baseload power, next to nuclear and closed loop geothermal.

      I won’t get into whether rising CO2 levels are definitely going to become a serious problem. It looks like they could, but on the other hand it also looks like worldwide agricultural production is increasing at a faster rate than can be explained solely by the use of better technology.

      80% of worldwide CO2 emissions are from stationary sources, so why not start there? No batteries required.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Craig Austin says:

    My 400h lexus hybrid cost a10k premium for the hybrid, 7 years later there was at least a 7k selling penalty over straight gas models, no one wants used batteries. There is no way we saved 17k in fuel costs in 7 years, maybe 2-3k, that said, we did not sell it, my daughter drives it and it runs great 12 years old with 490,000 kms. Notably my Tacoma is the same age and cost less than half of the lexus, is worth over twice as much now and it has 400,000 kms. I don’t think Tesla pickups will follow that priceline.

    Like

    • Terry Etam says:

      That is utterly fascinating. The market is the ultimate arbiter. Thanks for sharing.
      Not to be too hypercritical either but another story…a Cdn auto website tested an EV at a racetrack in Ontario as they often do with sporty cars. The battery was drained in 40 minutes after having done less than 50 km/30 miles. Yes track use is hard but only the acceleration phase, braking is equally harsh but should regenerate. It goes without saying that no ICE car they ever tested was even close to that happening

      Like

      • Rand West says:

        A 2018 Long Range tesla can go from about Bassano to Golden on a full charge. The 2021 Model 3 could probably do it in winter. Toyota’s rumoured 2023 battery technology could probably make Revelstoke from Medicine hat, and charge in ten minutes. But yeah, at full 500 horsepower output they don’t run so long.

        None of that is anywhere near as important for CO2 reduction as whether an electric taxi or delivery van is going to be practical. Most EVs are too expensive to directly compete on price, without some subsidies.

        Like

    • Rand West says:

      The salesman told you that no-one wants those new-fangled hybrids?

      Car salesmen started using that tactic to diss tradeins of every technology since the pneumatic tire and the electric starter.

      You hybrid has probably saved a litre or two per 100 km? So maybe $6k to $12,000 over its lifespan, so far. And lower emissions on the fuel it did burn, and probably longer engine life because the engine runs in a more efficient range.

      All that without the ‘gasoline-free’ miles that the Toyota Prime vehicles do.

      As for the long term market value of a Tesla electric pickup, it’s hard to guess. If they actually make it with a stainless body, the thing should last 30 years. I think Ford has the right idea with a dropin range extender, I guess we’ll see in a few years.

      Like

  1. […] What does the general public believe? What catches their attention? What do they get swept up in? And we have to try to explain the complexity of energy to them? No wonder it was a hard year. Read on… […]

    Like

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