Monday, July 8, 2013

Mid-year oil price updates

Updated: July 20, 2013  --  WTI reaches Brent Crude prices, as predicted.


Here we see the mid-year point of oil.  It has crept up, as expected, from an earlier post that I had made.  I also expected the WTI and Brent spread to be tightening.  This tightened quite a bit since early in the year.  Here is the prior graph that we will compare to.

As you can see, the WTI-brent spread was about $15.  Today, it is only $4.  This means that oil imported into the ports of the USA from other countries costs roughly the same as WTI crude, otherwise known as "North American" oil.

An article on suggested this would happen back in January of 2012.

Take a read at:

It's interesting to watch this but also goes counter to what the politicians were spouting a year or more ago about.  Do you remember hearing "once the oil drilling happens in the USA, it will be countless jobs and cheaper prices at the pump" during the elections?  Well, now that WTI oil is not piling up in Cushing, Oklahoma, the WTI price has now become nearly on-par with the world oil price.  Without politicizing this, people have to wake up to the fact that oil prices are not coming down anytime soon and unless there is another 2008-2009 type recession, they are here to stay.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Long drive in our Chevy Volt to RIT and western NY

I had to take a long drive recently in our Chevy Volt and wanted to document the trip and some of the mileage I got during the trip.

The trip was from our area of SE Pennsylvania to Lockport NY with a stop-over in Rochester, NY.

The first day was to Rochester, NY.  The route was mostly highway at 65mph.

Here is the mileage breakdown:
1)  First 30 miles were electric.  I then switched to Mountain Mode for the highway portion.
2)  Next 267 miles were using gasoline at 41.45 mpg
3)  Last 17 miles were electric.
Total electric miles were 47.1 based on the 12.5 kWh charge the night before the trip.
The temperature was about 60*F and this is near the optimial temperature for the Volt mileage but it was raining slightly and I had my headlights on for a couple hours during the trip.

I stopped to charge for an hour at RIT, where I graduated from the college of applied science and technology (1986). The school has four Schneider L2 charger ports available for students and faculty of the Galisano Institute of Sustainability (GIS).  These are good, lower-cost, L2 stations.  They don't utilize a "network" and perhaps cost the college less than going with larger-scale stations.  I would like to see some 120V plugs positioned for students or other EV drivers.  I have to wonder if other students or faculty outside the GIS could have charging stations available to them.

The next morning, I went back to RIT to finish the charge in preparation for the day.    The moon was setting to the west over the GIS building.  Note the solar modules on the roof and the vertical wind turbines to the North of the building.  I suspect these turbines will do nothing more than be an interesting sculpture for the building.  These items do not produce much energy and since the building is so close to them, they will be blocked from any southerly-oriented wind.  By 9:30am, two other volts had arrived and my charge had completed so off I went.

At 9:30am, the charge completed and I headed west to Lockport, NY. I also chose to use Mountain Mode while driving to Lockport. I did not use Mountain Mode from Lockport back to Pennsylvania, however.  Notice that I now only got 38.7 miles on this charge.  It was due to colder air temperatures during the overnight period and the drive west was into the wind and under 48*F.

Here is the mileage breakdown:
1) First 24 miles were electric. I then switched to Mountain Mode for portion into Lockport.
2) After leaving Lockport, I stayed in Normal mode and used the remaining 14.7 miles.
3)  I arrived home after 405 total miles using 8.55 gallons.The gasoline portion was 42.85 mpg. 

The interesting thing was that this was a SE driving direction and I drove slightly faster than the way north.  The weather was better during the drive and it was primarily during the daylight hours with temperatures in the high 60s and sunny.

The EPA estimates for the Chevy Volt are:
  • 35 miles per charge
  • 38 mpg when driving on gasoline
The Volt has done well to surpass my mileage expectations.  It's too bad that GM does not publish the findings that most drivers surpass the EPA mileage in warmer weather.  I think the EPA estimates blend in winter driving which is lower than I experienced during this trip.

Now, I do want to address my notes above about the RIT Galisano Institute of Sustainability.  In fact, there is a small chance that someone high-up at RIT may read this and I thought I'd share.  My feeling is that the GIS should be teaching not only the technical challenges of sustainability but also the multi-faceted cultural aspects of sustainability.  Those include:
  • conservation and lots of it.
  • sustainability outreach to children in the grade and high school levels including annual or semi-annual presentations at RIT.
  • political challenges of sustainability.
  • self-imposed limited birth choices of families in developing countries, cultures and religions.
  • outreach to religious leaders who subscribe to high birth rates and their desire to overtake other religions of the earth.  This is called "competitive procreation" and is well underway in some cultures and religions.
  • outreach to areas of Asia who would like their share of the world resources and who would like to repeat the decades of cheap energy and growth that the USA had experienced in the last 50 years.
Sustainability cannot be imposed through political angles without polarization of nations.  It can only be found through family leadership, religious leadership and cultural peer allowances.  Some of us "white and nerdy" guys buying electric cars and solar pv systems are not going to create a sustainable planet.  People want fun, people want things, people are self-serving.  People enjoy their "bread and circuses" and are not living as do the Amish with a down-to-earth lifestyle which indeed is sustainable.
Sustainability will not happen without deep and lasting cultural and societal change.  It will have to come from the highest spiritual leaders - because in fact, sustainability of this planet is truly a spiritual challenge to grasp.  This planet is a school for all of us and it must be maintained for the next 10,000 generations to come. 

If I can work it out - someday, I may return to RIT to attempt a Masters' degree in Sustainability.  However, I don't want to learn how to make a better bio-fuel.  I want to find a way to reach out to "those who won't listen" and make a deeper societal impact.  We have a dillusion of endless growth (1) in our world culture.  We must be able to see downturns in economies without society falling apart.  I have a saying that may be useful to anyone who wishes to share it:

An economy which requires continued growth in order to survive will eventually do neither.

As they say - GLTA - Good Luck To All. Time will tell if we are or are not just "A virus with shoes".

PS - my son starts his college life at RIT this coming September.  I think he'll enjoy his time there.

(1) quote by Richard Heinberg

Sunday, January 27, 2013

PA Electricity Price review wrt. Solar

Thought I'd throw this together to show that electric rates in our area are actually decreasing.
Here are the variable amounts from our bill for some prior months going back to 02/2011.

02/08/11 (reading date)
Generation Charges 1,283 kWh X $0.09070 116.37
Alt. Energy Portfolio Standard 1,283 kWh X 0.00120 1.54
Transmission Charges 1,283 kWh X 0.00730 9.37
Distribution Charges 1,283 kWh X 0.05960 76.47

09/08/11 - higher summer rates
Generation Charges 500 kWh X $0.09550 47.75
Generation Charges 1,595 kWh X 0.10820 172.58
Alt. Energy Portfolio Standard 2,095 kWh X 0.00140 2.93
Transmission Charges 2,095 kWh X 0.00730 15.29
Distribution Charges 2,095 kWh X 0.05960 124.86

Generation Charges 1,404 kWh X $0.09180 128.89
Transmission Charges 1,404 kWh X 0.00740 10.39
Distribution Charges 1,404 kWh X 0.06000 84.24

09/05/12 - higher summer rates
Generation Charges 500 kWh X $0.07830 39.15
Generation Charges 1,831 kWh X 0.08360 153.07
Alt. Energy Portfolio Standard 2,331 kWh X 0.00070 1.63
Transmission Charges 2,331 kWh X 0.00740 17.25
Distribution Charges 2,331 kWh X 0.06000 139.86
0.1505/kWh - far cheaper than prior year

We commissioned our Solar PV array on 12/15/2012
(a lot of clouds since this date)
The real benefit will begin next month with a full month of
production, no impact by the two test dates where I produced
75 kWh and got billed for it in this bill.

Generation Charges 1,134 kWh X $0.07660 86.86
Alt. Energy Portfolio Standard 1,134 kWh X 0.00070 0.79
Transmission Charges 1,134 kWh X 0.00960 10.89
Distribution Charges 1,134 kWh X 0.06190 70.19

The .1488 is the cheapest I've paid for electricity in years. I have a graph going back to 2007 which showed rates as high as .176/kWh. Back then, into 2009/2010, there was a lot of incentive by the PA Sunshine Program to incent Solar PV installations. And SRECs were "higher" then at $300/ea. So, a variety of solar installers were busy back then.

PA has Generator competition now and the big issue is that the competition lowers their comparable Generation Charges.
What our PECO electric POCO does is lowers the Generation charges and then increases Distribution Charges. They charge Dist. for
the competitive Generators and as such, they'll recoup customer loss who shopped-around by charging an ever-increasing Dist. charge for controlling the wires.

Generation charges dropping is due to increased use of Natural Gas at a cheaper rate. It is also synthetic due to the increased Distribution charges.

Conclusion - cheaper rates now in January, 2013 than 2012 and 2011.

But how long will cheaper rates last?

I don't know if other states where Solar PV installs are being done more (CA, NJ, LA, AZ, NM, etc.) but in PA, the future of solar installations really lies in large commercial installs and not much in terms of homeowners. Our rates from PECO are higher than nearby counties (as much as 50% more than Lancaster County with PP&L). This could reverse but takes a lot of effort on the part of the electric POCOs to request rate increases through the state energy commissions. Solar installs in PA will wane for residential arrays due to no more state incentive available. The only way to really sell solar to residential owners in PA will be to find those with the personal incentive to do a project. There may be more and more DIY installs going on out there where people buy product themselves and use an electrician to do the installation. Seems to me that if someone is considering purchase of a system and would be even taking out a HELOC or other type of loan to do it - really think about doing a lease program rather than purchase. At least you don't have to pay interest on a loan to pay for the system that would have a long payback period like here in PA.

Example of how to look at this economically. If you put in an $8KW system for $35K and pay cash, your ROI is about 12 years in PA (not including inverter replacement). If you instead put $35K into a High Yield corporate bond fund that has an annual return of 10%, you are up to $38.5K after one year. Do that for 10 years, with an average return of 7%, you will have $68K. After 12 years when solar has finally reached ROI, you then are saving perhaps $4K per year on the electric bill. But you will be making $6K on the investment. We don't know how the economy will be doing in 10 years - and what the power costs will be then. But we are pretty sure in PA that electric rates won't double in 12 years unless laws and legislation are enacted to increase costs. Returns on investments are also of some risk. Yes, the negative to the investing is you pay taxes on your gains. Fine - we all know that is to be accounted for. Let's say you make a net 5% per year on the investment. After 12 years, you have $62K. Investing has a compounding factor if you re-invest dividends while you don't get compounding with solar PV, you get .5% lower production per year.

Solar PV usually won't save you money - you can do far better in the stock market with proper investing. There is risk in doing either and of course, living efficiently and conservation are even cheaper to perform and payback is immediate. Why did I install a Solar PV array? For the life experience, because I'm interested in the technology, for the slight chance electric prices go up some day. I don't have plans to do any batteries or any kind of "prepping". But I think it's cool technology. I wouldn't have done it without the federal tax credit. We don't expect to see any SREC incentives of any value available for years, either.

With lower electric prices now from the POCO(s) and with flat or perhaps ever-increasing gasoline prices, this is a good time to consider electric cars going forward. With leases such as the new 2013 Nissan Leaf at $199/mo, commuters have an opportunity to save dollars switching to electricity for their auto fuel and that can save more per year than a Solar PV system would. Do both if you can afford it and could take advantage of the tax credits that are avaiable to you (not for leasing an EV, just for purchase). If you believe in this political banter about "North American Energy Independence by <some random year>" then this is one way to participate.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Philadelphia Car Show 2013

The Philadelphia Auto Show - through 1/27/2013

I spent an hour and a half at the Philadelphia car show on Monday, 1/21/2013.  It was much like the 2012 car show when it came to electric vehicles.  A few more models to look at but a whole lot missing this year.  I was going to drive down to the show with my son and park at a parking garage which stated it had one Chargepoint L2 charger but the price to park would have been $25 plus the 90 miles round trip.  Instead we paid $1 to park and $22 for two round-trip tickets on the regional light rail.  Saving the 70 or so odometer miles and hassles of driving while using public transit is a good thing in my book.  I'm sure the charger would have been available at the lot as not much public charging activity happens in Philadelphia.

The car show starts off with a whole sub-floor of the DUB collections and customized rides.  I'm not really into that so I skipped taking pictures of that area.

For EVs, to sum it up - only about 8 actual models of available plug in vehicles were on display.
- Chevrolet Volt
- Fisker Karma
- Ford Focus EV
- Ford C-Max Energi
- Ford Fusion Energi
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV
- Nissan Leaf
- Prius Plug-in
- Volvo CUV (concept)

What was missing:
- BMW Active-E, or new i-models
- Cadillac ELR
- Fiat 500 E
- Tesla Motors
- Via Motors

Impressive 1921 Milburn Electric car in the classic car section.

On to what we can actually buy.

Ford was in the center of the big room and had a good spread.  The plug-ins were all in a central circle together for easy access.

Ford had the best "electric" visuals on hand.  They had an Energi engine taken-apart for viewing of the connection between the 4-cyclinder and the electric motor.

Volvo prototype of a plug-in hybrid CUV.

Ford Fusion Energi

Ford C-Max Energy engine/motor combo:

Ford Focus EV motor:

C-Max Energy trunk-space.  Not much when compared to the Volt.  The reason appears to be due to the battery placed behind the rear seat.  This offers the 5th passenger seat.

 Chevy Volts were sort of pushed off to the side, near the left-most wall of the entire convention center.  There was some traffic around the two (red and blue).  They should have had a white one in between.

Here's a Nissan Leaf sitting next to a nice black Nissan GT-R.  The GT-R was getting twice the attention of the Leaf.  The Leaf rep was saying the Leaf gets 100 miles per charge.  Not good as the window sticker states 73-miles per charge.

The auto show had limited EVs.  Now, what do people really want to see?  Here is a group around the Ford Raptor dual-duty truck.  Lots of interested kids and adults:

Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep have no plug-ins at the show (nor available at all).  People lined up to ride the Jeep course up and simulated hill and over the simulated bumps.  As Jon Stewart says people want to buy the truck to pull the boat they don't have to the lake they don't go to.

What did most people look at?  The Porches, Jaguars, Mercedes, and these two popular cars.  Based on the people lined up wanting to sit in the Porche, Jaguar and other high-end cars - these companies should do fantastically in 2013!! :)  Actually, yes, this is the oogle factor where 99% of those sitting in these expensive performance cars are only dreaming of taking them for a spin.

Big lines to sit in some of the USA-built Corvettes and the Canadian-built Camaros:

The star of the show really is this.  The Lexus LF-LC - Lexus Future - Luxury Coupe
This is a design for a 500-hp hybrid concept which really is a head-turner.

Ok - what lies ahead for the gasoline car culture?  The immediate issue is "will gasoline prices go up sooner or later?"

Let's review this for now.  The rate of growth over the last three months show that WTI oil is rising faster than Brent Crude oil.  WTI is used for the midwestern gasoline products and for exports from the Gulf refineries.  We are said to be producing more oil in the USA.  Doesn't help at all with lowering oil prices.  Brent Crude is imported and is used at the East and West Coast refineries.

Let's come back to the oil price charts in a year and see how things are doing after 2013 closes out.

The real lack of interest of car companies to pursue a strong marketing campaign for plug-in EVs is showing that both car firms and buyers are not showing a high interest in EVs compared to all the other cars that have powerful engines and flashy curves.  Buyers were looking at the EVs but how they spoke of them sounded to lack real interest and of more novelty.  I did see a family of five looking at the Volt...

I didn't really enjoy the car show this year very much.  I was hoping to see more activity for plug-ins and it was lack-luster.  My real hope is that we continue to see better sales that lead to a doubling of the 2012 unit-sales of plug-in models and renewed interest in plug-ins helped by Ford, BMW and others.  We will see changes in 2013 too with some predictions of mine.  I believe that Coda closes their doors in the USA.  Fisker comes very close to closing their doors as well.  Ford will become the plug-in sales leader of 2013 with the Energi and Focus EV models combined versus the GM plug-ins of Volt + ELR.  Volt will sell about 130% of the units of 2012 while ELR will sell about 2,500 units.  I think this is due to the lack of serious leadership to get dealerships on board other than the high-volume dealerships.  People will hear more about the 2014 Volt and start to consider waiting for that model to come out rather than going for a 2012 or 2013 model.  Oh yeah, Toyota will continue to sell the Plug-in Prius well.  I don't know why someone would want between 6-11 miles of electric power that may still use the engine during acceleration.  But they will sell in the 1,000-1,500 per month range.

Like the Philadelphia Auto Show catch-phrase this year says:  Find Your Vroom!   People want engines and noisy exhaust.  They are really not ready for plug-in vehicles in a large scale.  At all.  It may take the children of the current generation to catch onto plug-ins.  I saw a nice young girl being guided by her mom to sit in the Nissan Leaf.  It looked like they both were enjoying it.  Maybe that girl will drive an EV as her first car and perhaps as her only type of vehicle as she grows up.