Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: In the matter of the transition to renewable energy, there are some nations and governments which do it quite well, e.g., Denmark, some that don’t appear to care, e.g. the US, and then there’s Canada. Canada claims to be very concerned about the environment and about the need to dramatically cut carbon emissions and transition quickly to a fossil-fuel-free economy. However, it has failed on a number of fronts and will most likely continue to fail.
The Need to Understand Total Cost
Whatever purchase at the personnel, industry or government level that you have, it is very important to have a good understanding of the TOTAL COST in order to make effective and well-reasoned economic decisions. Most people have an inherent ability to assess TOTAL COST and industry has analysts to help determine TOTAL COST; however, governments rely too much upon ideologues to arrive too often at incorrect TOTAL COST.
Strictly speaking, TOTAL COST = the sum of all costs associated with a purchase (or a project). Typically, this is broken into two components: TOTAL COST = Total Capital Costs (CAPEX) + Total Operating Costs (OPEX) over the assumed life of the product.
Let’s consider an immediate example of a consumer buying a car:
CAPEX = purchase price + dealer prep fees + financing costs – salvage / resale value
OPEX = fuel costs + insurance and registration + maintenance and parts
Consumers often buy a personal vehicle (car or truck) based only on the sticker price and consequently vehicle manufacturers have tuned their sales pitches to this almost exclusively. But if one does a TOTAL COST analysis of a car, EVs are now tending to be the lowest TOTAL COST personal vehicle choice (Fig. 1).
Upfront CAPEX for an ICE is still much lower than for a similar sized EV, but when you add in the OPEX to arrive at TOTAL COST, EVs are starting to pull ahead. Therefore, at the personal level, EVs are quickly becoming the best economic choice for those that can overcome the initial high CAPEX, and at the societal level, EVs help reduce carbon emissions and are the right choice for that.
Is it a Good Idea for Governments to Subsidize EV Purchases?
That depends upon the objectives of the government and the consensus of the populace. If the aim is to wean a nation state off fossil fuel reliance, which history has shown can be an Achilles heel to national economies, then yes, do as Denmark and China are doing and ban ICEs while supporting EVs.
If the aim is to eliminate the carbon emissions in order to protect the environment, then do as Norway and ban new ICE sales by 2025.
But if your aim is to reward wealthy and upper middle class voters with subsidies for purchasing EVs, then do as the Canadian government is doing (see CBC news and Electrek). The Canadian Federal EV rebate will not help most Canadians because the average household income in Canada is about $64,000 (CDN) per Statistics Canada 2017 data, while the cheapest marginally useful EV starts at $32,000 (CDN) plus sales taxes. Even if average, working Canadians wanted to buy EVs, the initial purchase cost of EVs is still higher than most Canadians can afford.
Canadian consumers across a broad economic range have correctly calculated that less expensive ICEs, new or used, will be the best economic solution for them for some time. This phenomenon of the citizen consumer being economically smarter than big government is not unique to Canada.
What Must Governments Do to Get More EVs On the Roads?
“Canadian Vehicles Are Big, Heavy and Guzzle a Lot of Gasoline”
Canadians rank number one in the world for having the largest, heaviest, least fuel efficient and highest carbon emitting vehicles.
For the befuddled government in Canada, a better approach to reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption by personnel vehicles could be to make small nudges and then let market forces takeover. For example, it would be fine to allow ICEs to stay on the roads, as long as the net mileage of ICEs continued to improve each year. Looking at Figure 2, between 2005 and 2010 average vehicle mileage increased by about 16%. This means that for the same driving habits, 16% less fuel was consumed and 16% less carbon was emitted, on average just five years down the road.
As late model used cars get removed from the car pool and are replaced with newer more efficient vehicles, then without changing tech or giving away EVs, it is likely that over time carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption will decrease just by natural replacement of the personal fleet. Eventually, a new car that gets 30 mpg, will filter down to the used car market and replace an older generation model that only got 20 mpg. That’s an evolutionary way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% on a personnel vehicle. Instead of promising $2000 camping trips for poor families, it may be more helpful to provide rebates for poor families to replace very old low mileage vehicles with newer used ones that get higher mileage. Eventually such rebates could be expanded to cover PHEVs or BEVS as those filter down through the used car marketplace.
Or if the Canadian government really wants to help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, maybe it should focus first on those gases which trigger the most warming. “The majority of warming results from gases with a much lower media profile than the paparazzi-trailed starlet of global warming, CO2.“
Support Transit Instead of EVs
To benefit more people quickly, Instead of spending $billions on EV subsidies that benefit the wealthiest citizens, those same monies may be more effectively spent on upgrading and improving transit systems that benefit a broader subset of citizens.
Canadian Federal Government Carbon Pricing is a Tax, Simple and Ugly
There are two general purposes for taxes. The first is to collect revenue for the government to provide critical services such as courts and defense. The second is to apply taxes to change consumption behavior, such as with sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. However, with the Carbon pricing policies in Canada, there is no realistic way that Canadians can alter their energy consumption behavior in order to escape the carbon price: Thus it is a tax of the most egregious kind that siphons money from Canadians into government coffers with low to zero traceability. Natural gas is still the dominant energy source for heating homes and businesses, and there is nothing else available, now or in the short term, on a scale large enough for Canadians to use: It’s either heat the homes or freeze or migrate to Florida or Arizona for winter. Watch out America, you may need to build a wall on the northern border, too.
Furthermore, almost every incentive that the Federal Government has provided for green energy and reduction of carbon emission has been targeted at and benefited large businesses, not lower or middle class Canadians. While the PM uses his perk of zipping around frivolously on a private jet (see National Post and CTV News), it’s time for the Federal Government in Canada to honestly admit that the carbon price in Canada hits a captive market with no substantive, alternative choice available.
Carbon Emissions and Fossil Fuel Consumption Inelasticity in Canada
There is no reasonable and realistic way for the Federal Canadian government to achieve its much touted and promised carbon emission and fossil fuel consumption reduction targets. According to data from the World Bank since 1980 energy consumption in Canada has been very consistent at around 52 barrels of oil equivalent per year per Canadian. During the same period, the yearly carbon emissions per Canadian have slowly dropped from about 20 to 15 tonnes, which is still over twice the yearly per capita carbon emissions of a European at 6.8 tonnes. During this same period, the use of renewable energy in Canada has remained fairly flat so most of the gains in carbon reductions have come from elsewhere, either fuel efficiency improvements or the shuttering of coal power plants.
While the Federal government enacts legislation and policies to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint and fossil fuel consumption, historical data suggests that such legislation will be ineffective (Fig. 3) and that it is extremely unlikely for the Federal Government in Canada to meet its international commitments to CO2 reduction. More needs to be done for Canada to succeed, but it is also extremely unlikely that the current administration has the technical, fiscal or social where-with-all to do what is necessary without resorting to brute force diktats.
The problem is more difficult to resolve when one considers that current Federal objectives in some areas will nullify any possible gains in other areas. For example, without being able to reduce per capita energy consumption or carbon emissions, adding 350,000 immigrants each year to Canada will by default drive up the total energy consumption and carbon emissions volumes: That will mean an additional 2.6 million tonnes of oil equivalent energy consumed and 5.2 million additional tonnes of carbon emissions each year. Energy will be needed to heat the residences of the newcomers and commute them to their jobs and there is nothing on the horizon to substitute for oil and gas in Canada. Therefore, unless the Federal Government in Canada gives each new immigrant an EV and a solar powered home, there is absolutely no way that the Federal Liberal government can achieve their vaunted carbon reduction targets and the shutdown of Canada’s oil industry.
In Canada, it takes over a decade for new energy projects, renewable or not, to come on stream. In that same decade, 3,500,000 new Canadians will need a lot of energy. Who in the Federal Government in Canada has a realistic plan for that? By realistic, I mean affordable, corruption free, workable and implementable without significant social or economic disruption.
It continues to get worse, because during this year’s Federal Election campaign, the Canadian Prime Minister has decided that he needs two jets while every other prior prime minister or party leader to date has made do with only one jet. To paraphrase Ms. Thunberg, “Shame on You Prime Minister Trudeau”. For the Earth’s sake, if the Federal Liberals are returned to a minority Government in Canada, I kindly ask the Green or NDP coalition partners to reign in the Prime Minister’s privileged jet setting and plastic bottle consumption habits.
Canada Can Do Better
Canada has a lot of renewable energy potential and a lot of ability to reuse resources. But maybe the Federal Government in Canada needs to be the first thing recycled before anything real and sustainable can be achieved. I absolutely agree that Canada must change its energy habits, but it needs better moral and technical leadership and a unifying vision instead of a divisive and dismissive cadre of elitist and privileged politicians (see Pierre Poilievre and CBC News).
I’m not against EVs. I commute in Houston on a bicycle and EVs can’t touch me for energy efficiency (15 miles per gallon of beer vs. about 130 mpge for an EV) or lowest lifetime greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, I know that renewable technology has now achieved parity with or surpassed traditional fossil fuel technologies in a lot of areas: My next car will most likely be an EV and my next house will have integrated solar and battery energy.
But I am very much in favor of evolutionary progress and of governments implementing environmental and energy policies based upon reason, science and economics instead of listening to biased and scandal plagued consultants from New York. In the long run, energy and financial independence requires astute and competent governments. Well done Norway, Denmark, Germany and China. Keep trying Canada.
Vive l’Alberta Libre!
Every week seems to bring another attack by the Trump Administration against laws and regulations that have been instituted by prior administrations to protect the environment and fight climate change. The most recent is the campaign to deny California the right to set stricter automobile emissions standards than federal limits. It has caused yet another uproar among environmentalists and liberals and glee among climate change deniers and conservatives and will undoubtedly lead to many years of legal battles. But what is reality? In fact, this move, and all the others, are just meaningless actions that do little more than pander to the Administration’s fossil fuel campaign contributors and excite the hardcore Republican base ahead of the upcoming elections. The reality is that technology and market forces are driving the world inexorably and at an increasing pace toward a renewable energy future, despite the last-ditch efforts of the President and his supporters. Let’s look at some of the higher profile actions.(more…)
Guest blog by SA Shelley: No doubt about it, the world runs on energy (and money). Nearly 80% of all the world’s energy is still provided by coal, oil and gas though this fossil fuel proportion of the energy mix is now shrinking and in just under 10 years, the world’s energy mix will look markedly different. I hope that in addition to coal, oil and gas the OWOE reader is familiar with some of the other large energy sources such as nuclear, wind, solar, hydro and wave. Here at OWOE we try to bring useful and relevant knowledge and ideas about energy to the reader, and one big potential and virtually zero carbon energy source that has been overlooked by a lot of people including the OWOE bloggers is geothermal energy. Well no more. After a bit of research this OWOE blogger has gone gung-ho for geo for good reason.(more…)
Guest blog by SA Shelley: The amount of energy consumed to light our modern civilization would surprise most people. In the not too distant past, residential and commercial lighting consumed about 20% of all electricity produced. Basically, every fifth coal, nuclear or gas turbine power plant built was used to just to light cities, factories and homes. However, since the advent of the LED, there has been a remarkable drop in the amount of electrical power required to light our modern world. Depending upon where you live and work, recent data suggests that residential and commercial lighting now consumes only between 7% to 12.5% of all the electricity produced. That’s a drop in energy consumption for lighting by almost 1% per year over the last 10 years. The good news is that the energy for lighting continues to decline and will only get better as more LED lighting replaces inefficient technologies (see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2).(more…)
Guest blog by SA Shelley: I try to avoid writing about oil too often for three reasons: 1) the oil markets are well observed by more than enough highly paid analysts, 2) the changes in energy technology and distribution are more interesting (and still largely misunderstood by highly paid analysts) and 3) I try to build anticipation for my oil industry supply and demand blog in January of each year. But because of some recent peculiarities that have arisen in the oil markets, a short blog about oil now seems warranted.(more…)
SA Shelley, WH Luyties: OWOE is a small site, with just a few dedicated and experienced staff who follow energy technologies, economics and policies. Occasionally, OWOE bloggers dare to forecast energy developments that tend to be contrarian, and, much to everyone’s surprise, they have been very good at forecasting trends correctly and ahead of much larger analytical organizations. Are we that good at more quickly analyzing publicly available information along with some insight and soft analysis? Or do we have access to the dark arts such as whiskey and voodoo?(more…)
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: In the past few months, a lot of people around the world have probably wondered about why oil prices have again quickly and significantly fallen. I’ve argued in a prior blog at the beginning of this year that the world is awash in oil supply. Even though oil production is collapsing in places like Venezuela, Iran and Mexico, is in danger of collapsing in more places like Angola and Libya, and is politically constrained in places like North Venezuela (Canada), there still is plenty of oil to supply most global markets. The plentiful supply of course comes from surging production in the U.S., ample production in Russia and new offshore fields coming on stream in places like Guyana and Brazil. If you couple increasing supply with softening global demand for oil, you get such downward pressure on oil prices. So what’s with this nonsensical sport of shooting tankers in the Gulf of Oman?(more…)
I live in California. That gives me a front seat to virtually every new initiative and trend related to saving the planet, whether it is about turtles and plastic straws, banning single-use plastic bags, electric vehicles, or green energy. Although not the first state to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), California has been one of the most aggressive in its timetable for replacing fossil fuel based electricity with carbon-free. In 2018, California updated its RPS to the requirement to achieve 60% of electricity sales from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2045. Of course, California’s aggressive push toward renewables has triggered a wide range of reactions. For example, Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress has been pushing the idea that California’s electricity rates are significantly higher than the rest of the US (see Figure 1) and rising significantly faster because of its dependence on renewables. His culprit is renewable energy and his solution is to keep nuclear plants open. In contrast, Roger Sowell, who blogs about renewable energy issues, argues that California’s unique climate, geography, and large population make such differences to be expected.(more…)
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley In the first blog of this series, I summarized the huge energy resources of Canada. In the second blog, I showed how most of those resources have been or are being squandered and how governments with good intentions, at times more often than naught, deliver bad outcomes. While statistically bad outcomes can be unintentional, in Canada a lot of bad outcomes are actually the deterministic result of government strategy. Coupled with the breakdown of the rule of law at the highest levels, Canada is in bad shape. That unfortunately is the very big ugly in Canada. Other factors resulting in Canada’s bad energy situation are the focused actions by small groups of well-funded opponents and the apathy by the populace who have been habituated to the sweet lucre of government largesse. Canadians are generally kind and polite people, but at the governing level, the plotting and duplicities surpass a Shakespearean tragedy. The Russians probably learn by watching what happens in Ottawa.
The biggest warning that I have is that the path that Canada is on will more likely lead to Canada becoming the next Venezuela – corrupt, ineffective and when in trouble, doubling down on failed collectivist ideas, instead of returning to integrity, order and prosperity.(more…)
Guest blog by Mr. R. U. Cirius: Here are some interesting and somewhat offbeat energy stories that haven’t gotten much media attention during the first three months of the year.
California wind turbines contribute to unprecedented wildflower outbreak
This year California has experienced what many are calling a “superbloom” of wildflowers that hasn’t been seen in decades (Fig. 1). While most attribute this to heavy winter rainfall following several years of drought, Dr. Marko Ramius from the National Wind Energy Laboratory (NWEL) has identified another contributor to the phenomenon – California’s ubiquitous wind turbines. Dr. Ramius has released his surprising findings that show the role of what he calls the “turbulence boundary interface”. This is the boundary of the turbulent mass of air downstream of the turbine’s rotor that generally hovers just off the ground. He has found that this boundary traps moisture close to the earth, which then enhances and prolongs the period of flower bloom. He is currently in discussion with major turbine manufacturers to incorporate blade tip misters into their designs that could provide moisture during drought periods and hopefully make such superblooms a more common occurrence.
Click here to learn more about wind energy.(more…)