Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ending ethanol subsidies, still working on the technology

Congress' alleged aversion to subsidies hasn't had much useful results that I can tell, but there is one exception:  the end to three decades of ethanol subsidies, and the massive tariff on imported ethanol.  The environmental impact is less clear because the requirement to oxygenate gas remains, so the ethanol will still get produced - it's just that the oil industry won't be getting a $6 billion annual undeserved tax writeoff.  Still, a good step.

Another longer term possibility is using scientific research to change corn yield to emphasize ethanol production, something that can change a borderline wasteful product into something useful.  We'll see, maybe it'll work.

In other news, the guys at the Breakthrough Institute apparently have a new book arguing the groundbreaking concept that science and technology can be used to solve our environmental problems.  I'm underwhelmed.  I'd be more whelmed though if instead of saying new tech solutions must include nuclear, they said that it could include nuclear, and let the performance of various solutions play themselves out.

To be fair, I haven't read it so maybe there's something interesting there.


carrot eater said...

so can we freely import sugar and/or sugar-based ethanol from abroad yet, or are those sops still in place?

carrot eater said...

wow - I always thought this policy was the unfortunate price of Iowa having an early caucus. No longer.

John Mashey said...

From the article:
"Now, I’m happy to report, Nordhaus and Shellenberger are back with an e-book, Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene (Breakthrough Institute, 2011), in which they and other thinkers–including the French philosopher Bruno LaTour, whose riff on Frankenstein gives the book its name–re-envision environmentalism in upbeat terms."

Bruno Latour? Oh, good, see Bottling nonsense, where we describe Peter Wood's attempt top conflate Barnum and Latour with climate science and others.

How much commercial R&D management have the Breakthrough folks done?

crf said...

I guess you'd question the "must", having been subjected to Fukushima, coupled with years of renewable cool-aid waterboarding from most progressive and climate blogs.

I think you're totally wrong about questioning its necessity. A dispassionate look at the evidence would note that nuclear is the only greatly expandable technology currently employed which makes possible substantial cuts (~80%) in GHG within an electric grid. France did it. (And Denmark for example, did not.)

EliRabett said...

Most likely, at least from here. . ??

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

Startling news. I think Eli and I agree on something. So we're in agreement that ethanol subsidies are stupid and shouldn't be used?

Your writing is usually very nuanced so much of the sarcasm flies over my head.

David B. Benson said...

Ethanol subsidies bad.

Nuclear power plants only way to massively expand low carbon baseload electricity at reasonable cost. This has been thoroughly established, repeatedly.

carrot eater said...

Huh? Nothing of the sort has been thoroughly established, repeatedly. Nobody actually knows how much it costs to build (to completion and operation) a nuclear power plant in today's commercial conditions, in the West. The two that Areva has underway are well over schedule and over budget. Somebody actually needs to complete a few, before we know what the economics really are, and make such confident statements. In the meanwhile, pretty much anything nuclear in the US is going to require a loan guarantee from the government to get off the ground.

jpd said...

Whale oil is the only way to massively expand low carbon baseload electricity at reasonable cost. This has been thoroughly established, repeatedly

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

@Carrot Eater

At least nuclear reactors make power. Solar and wind have been a complete failure and many here have been dishonest with themselves by continually falsely hyping these pathetic inventions.

Russell said...

I learned on a tech transfer trip to Tatarstan that it takes a lot of energy to grind fibrous corn fine enough for efficient ethanol production- several thousand horsepower for an economically large distillery .

So if cutting subsidies renders some wind projects unattractive, perhaps the turbines can redeem themselves as electric or direct mechanical drives for grain , grass, and silage reduction to feed the distilleries.

carrot eater said...

solar and wind don't generate electricity? what sort of nonsense is that?

Wind really is approaching competitiveness. Well, it was, until gas just got so darn cheap of late.

John said...

What should replace fossil fuels?

Here's my guess:

Solar, wind, nuclear.

The cost of nuclear is roughly the same as fossil fuels,
wind somewhat higher, and solar higher still (photovoltaic about 4 x fossil fuels, solar thermal about 2 x fossi fuels).

Cost comparisons are not simple because you're comparing apples and oranges. Fossil fuel plants have lower up-front construction costs, but much of their cost is in the fuels. Solar, wind, nuclear have high construction costs, low or zero cost of fuels. That's why there's not a simple comparison.

Want an analogy? What does it cost to buy a house? It depends: in addition to the price, what is the interest rate? the duration of the mortgage? etc etc.

There's an old real estate joke: I'll let you name the price if you let me name the terms. I'll buy your modest house and pay you $1 million, if I can pay $1 a year for a million years.

J Bowers said...

"At least nuclear reactors make power. Solar and wind have been a complete failure"

Ah, that explains Scottish on-shore wind power generation now being cheaper than nuclear with the potential to export 50% of their renewable energy - an increase on their current net export of 21%. Utter disaster, that.

Russell said...

"Ah, that explains Scottish on-shore wind power generation now being cheaper than nuclear "

Externalities work both ways: as the blades drive the grouse uncanny well, ye nae have to pay the beaters.

Anonymous said...

"Ah, that explains Scottish on-shore wind power generation now being cheaper than nuclear"

Even neglecting the tariffs that fund this 'cheaper' power, you have to account for the need to store wind generated electricity when wind produces a large percentage of a nation's power.

Yea-mon, who is having problems with OpenID at the moment.

EWI said...

For all bunnies, I see that Richard Tol is decamping from the ESRI in Ireland to go to University of Sussex:!/search?q=%23cuimhn%C3%ADcinn

EliRabett said...

Looks like he finally talked someone into giving him a tenured position. OTOH, Richard has never missed an opportunity to shit in the bed he was sleeping in previously.

David B. Benson said...

carrot eater --- The overbudget Avera EPR in Finland is still well worth it according to commenters elsewhere who will be purchasing that electricity. The four Westinghouse AP1000 projects currently in so-called pre-construction in the USA are on time and within budget. Since Westinghouse is currently actually constructing several of those in China I'd say they known what they are about.

One way to keep current is by following World Nuclear News.

green investments said...

Ending the ethanol subsidy was definitely one of the most awesome events of 2011, don't underestimate it. Remember, its not only a question about the environment, but also one about food security for poorer populations as well. Every bushel of corn that is used for ethanol is one less bushel that is available for real food. This is a big win!