Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Return on Investment pt.2

The invention of agricultural equipment powered by internal combustion engines sparked the Green Revolution and changed America's and the worlds relationship to food in a permanent way. Jared Diamond makes a powerful case for the invention of agriculture as the necessary element for a society to exist at all, in his book "Guns, Germs and Steel". It is time for another powerful force of change to come from agricultural systems.

Currently the American automotive market is starting the transition over to hybrid and full electric vehicles. Every year a larger and larger percentage of the market is being embraced by consumers who no longer want the ever climbing price of fossil fuels to dominate their lives. The price of fuel will likely never drop below its current elevated threshold. If the automotive industry can do it, why can't the producers of agricultural equipment?

The greener John Deere might be just around the corner. In markets like the wheat fields of Washington State, where plentiful and cheep renewable energy infrastructure already exists, there is a ripe market waiting to be realized. When a farmer is looking to phase out older equipment, it shouldn't be hard to make a strong case for electrification. The money saved on maintenance and fuel costs alone could potentially make an even more expensive machinery investment pay dividends in short order.

In places where access to existing power infrastructure is less available, a more costly investment in solar collection arrays would be ideal for the longer term thinking agricultural market, when the concept of free fuel from the sun is disseminated. Starting with small solar powered pumping stations for irrigation, the growth potential for this market is immense, once the systems have become familiar.

From the produce consumers standpoint, limiting petroleum inputs into for their broccoli might start out as a boutique market, eventually the reduced cost by limiting this expense will make sense for a much broader consumer base. The appeal to environmentally conscious consumers however should not be understated. This is not only a remarkable business opportunity, but someday, it may make your salad just a little bit greener.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Return on investment.

In my post carbon series I examined some of the non-environmental reasons to adopt technologies that limit fossil fuel consumption. Now I want to talk about some more practical reasons. Like simple efficiency. Lets start with the internal combustion engine (ICE). Like the one in the average car. The automotive industry has made significant additions that have dramatically improved the ICE, but the basic concept has not really changed much since the first design.

ICE motors now have fuel injection with computer controls but still relies on pistons and valves very similar to the very first designs. Surprisingly most of the fuel consumed by an ICE is spent just maintaining the reciprocal motion internally. Less than 20% of the energy stored in the fuel is actually converted to movement of the entire vehicle. That means every time you fuel up your car, more than 80% of that investment is wasted on just keeping the engine running.

The physics involved with the way the engine works makes this a hard limit that cannot be overcome with any amount of innovation without completely scrapping the design altogether and starting from scratch. A car also consumes petroleum through is maintenance systems, like engine and transmission oils. These other essential lubricants do not contribute to the actual transportation either. There is also the petroleum resources needed to manufacture the vehicle in the first place. The point is, most of the petroleum consumed by an ICE does little to actually contribute to the purpose of the mechanism.

From a return on investment viewpoint, the total volume of petroleum consumed for a 2 or less year old car is extremely poor per mile. Petroleum is an inherently limited resource as well. The time frame required for natural processes to form petroleum ensures that a sustainable rate of extraction is entirely unfeasible. This means that today the price of petroleum will never drop to the price it was ten years ago, and in ten years it will never drop to today's price.

Transitioning away from fossil fuel transportation by supporting EV plug in stations and public transportation is a clearly stronger investment strategy. Petroleum industry could play an important (and profitable) role in this transition by installing charging stations at their existing sites. Adding a charging station to even a small percentage of the gas stations they currently maintain, could become an important source of revenue in the future for an industry that needs to recognize its limited growth potential.

Charging currently takes time, a waiting lounge with services represents massive opportunity for consumer interaction. I imagine charging station waiting lounge with retail options, wifi, and a host of other "truck stop" style services like showers or dining. Instead of waiting for the supply chain to collapse, smart petroleum industry leaders would begin to anticipate this market that can only grow in the coming decades.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Post carbon Economy pt.3

The Path forward.

Even if you are not an environmentalist, there are still plenty of reasons for austerity of petroleum consumption. None the least of which is the dependency our society has on this precious and limited resource. In simple terms, we cannot continue to blow our entire paycheck on payday. We have to start budgeting if we are going to be successful in the future.

The key to bringing intelligent consumption to the table on a national level will be a combination of campaign finance reform and personal accountability. Across the nation, people have already taken steps toward the second one. Higher efficacy systems are being employed to replace ageing ones everywhere. That is an important first step. Some are even starting to make the kind of personal sacrifices that are really needed.

The first one is starting to gain traction as well. Organizations like; RepresentUs, Public Citizen, and several more are working to tackle the problem head on with public campaigns designed to show who our elected leaders are really working for. This is the main cause that should unite the many disparate struggling for change in the political system.

Civil rights, environmentalism, social justice, and many other causes can only stand to gain from supporting the movement that would transition our political system away from representation for the highest bidder, back to representation for all constituents. I am entirely convinced that it is time to drop our many flags and unite under one banner to restore our democracy to the people. If we win this one, it will only be because we have fought together without letting our individual interests divide us.

Once this first step is completed, all of our causes will benefit provided they have enough popular support. It is imperative that the representative democratic ideals of the founding fathers are heeded once again. As long as we can be kept divided into smaller controllable factions, the seemingly monolithic corporate entities that currently sway the majority opinions of our politicians will stand firm on their deeply flawed convictions.

Anyone who desires meaningful change at a governmental level, regardless of the specific motivation, would be well served to get behind the movement to limit the influence of money over politics. As always, I encourage comments and criticisms and will not edit or omit anything.