Jun 13

I received enough email asking why I picked on Obama for what may have been a slip of the tongue regarding distribution of income gains. I think that our elected officials, whoever they are, need to speak with precision and when it comes to numbers, be close enough to exhibit an understanding of what they are discussing.

So, this past Tuesday, I hear Sen John Barrasso (WI) being interviewed by CNBC on the current gas price concerns. He offered that the average American uses 1500 gallons of gasoline each year. I’ll not split hairs to suggest that he meant the average driver, that was understood. But let’s think for a minute. 1500 gallons, even at 20 MPG (which is low, earlier, CNBC said the MPG was up to 30 MPG this year, which seemed high) that’s 30,000 miles per year. That just seemed wrong to me, so a few seconds with The Google and I found the Energy Kid’s Page, a site hosted by the department of energy. There, I found the number to be 500 gallons average with 12,000 miles driven by the average driver. This made a bit more sense to me, and this data was confirmed by the California Energy Commission, which states a US average of 464 gallons used per year. These numbers differ by less than 10%, but are far from the 1500 gallons the honorable Senator from Wisconsin stated.

The price of gas is high, painfully so. In any dialog about economics, it’s important to have your numbers right. Now, at work on Monday, I know that every dollar rise in gasoline impacts the average driver by $500 per year. I don’t aspire to the Cliff Clavin award, but I do want to know my facts before I quote them.

(I just found another beautiful New York Times graphic titled, “The Varying Impact of Gas Prices” illustrating the percent of one’s income going to gasoline purchases, across the country. Take a peek.)
Enjoy the weekend!


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Jun 02

Sometimes I struggle to choose a title for my posts. You see, there are many times that a potential reader will glance at a title and read or skip the post based on those few words. Other titles I considered for todays were, “Did Congressman Hinchey cut class that day?”, “Stupid Congressional Tricks”, “Repealing the Law of Supply and Demand”, and “Hinchey is a @#$%’ing moron”. That last one was a bit harsh as I have no other experience with this Gentleman from New York, and this post is regarding this one story that came to my attention.

Straight from WBNG (Binghamton, NY) news comes this news soundbite; “In the short term, Hinchey will outline a variety of new legislative steps on which he is working, including a bill that would give the president the authority to cap gas prices at $2.49 per gallon.”

Let me offer a simple, but illustrative, image to help explain the absurdity of this proposal;

supply/demand curve

I first presented this last August in my post “Anti-Gouging sounds like price controls to me“. This chart is the classic supply and demand curve. The two lines intersect at point B, the point at which the amount demanded is the same as the amount supplied. If we were to lower the maximum price allowed, the demand of course would go up, yet at the same time the seller is less willing to offer as much product at that lower price. As an article on price control from The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics offers,”When the U.S. government set maximum prices for gasoline in 1973 and 1979, dealers sold gas on a first-come-first-served basis, and drivers got a little taste of what life was like for people in the Soviet Union: they had to wait in long lines to buy gas. The true price of gas, which included both the cash paid and the time spent waiting in line, was often higher than if prices were not controlled at all.” Short term, I don’t have the answer for the current problems we are facing. I do know that oil has limited supply at a given price. At a higher price, old wells can be reopened and deeper wells can be dug at a higher cost. I also know that not nearly enough has been done to improve the efficiency of alternative fuels, specifically, wind and solar. While Congressman Hinchey is at it, he may as well propose that President Bush repeal the law of gravity. That proposal is no more absurd than interfering with the law of supply and demand, and no more chaotic in whatever the results.


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Apr 11

Some time ago, I read a book titled “Pop!: Why Bubbles Are Great For The Economy.” This is not a summary of that book, but I recommend it as it made for some interesting reading. Its premise was that bubbles leave in their wake some new infrastructure (telegraph lines or railroad tracks, as an example) or technology leap (as in the late 90’s ‘dot com’ boom leaving a huge amount of dark fiber and active bandwidth). Now, I put that book down wondering what the next bubble would bring, and perhaps I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. Regular readers know I’m excited about the prospects of alternative energy, specifically, solar energy. Sure enough, Harper’s recently ran an article titled “The next bubble: Priming the markets for tomorrow’s big crash.” In this article, Eric Janszen, the founder and president of iTulip, Inc. speculates that alternative energy may be the next bubble forming, and if his forecast is right, we have years ahead of us to take advantage of the opportunity this presents. This chart offers both historical numbers on Tech and Housing, as well as forecasts for the housing downturn and the Alternative energy bubble.



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Mar 14

In my recent posts where I share my excitement regarding the future of solar power, I talk about the potential cross over point where the cost of electricity, specifically from solar, is lower than the cost of gas. Well, a bit more googling, and I have some more numbers. From ‘Life after the oil crash’, I find that a gallon of gasoline contains energy equal to about 37 KWH. With gas at about $3 per gallon right now, this is about 8.1 cents per KWH versus a US average cost per KWH of 10.69 cents. As we approach $4 gas, the cost of gasoline will exceed the cost of electricity BTU for BTU.
The latest prices I see for solar show about $6000-$8000 for a 1KW installation. Assuming a 5%/yr return, that’s about $400/yr. If the system is running full power for 2000 hours per year, we are at a 20 cent per KWH cost for solar. Still more than what we’d pay our electric company, but prices are still falling. We may be a few years away, but the current oil crisis will only help the cause (for solar).


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