Friday, August 15, 2008

Past Articles Redux

A wonderful source for determining the etymology of a word is That describes the word redux as originating from the Latin reducare: to bring back. Its definition is: Of a topic: redone, restore, brought back, revisited. It is the latter word that best applies, since we are about to revisit several subjects that have appeared in this newspaper in past columns, subjects that have suddenly been gaining prominent exposure in the media. The point being, “Aren’t you glad you read about it here first?”

The Tesla Roadster

The cover article of the July 21 st issue of Fortune magazine was a report about the lithium-ion battery-operated Tesla two-seater Roadster, a story first reported here in February 2007, and again in September and October 2007. Fortune even displayed a picture of the car on the cover, whereas our readers were treated to a similar picture a year-and–a-half ago. Our October article reported that the car’s production was delayed, and the Fortune article described in great detail (eight pages worth) the history of the car, the individuals behind it, and the fact that antipathy that developed between the two creators of the company forced one of them out.

However, despite a number of production problems that delayed delivery of the car for a year, the first group of cars, seven of them, have been completed. The major delay was the difficulty in developing a two-gear transmission system. The result is that the first cars will be delivered with a one-gear system that will ultimately be replaced. The excitement about the car relates to its ability to travel some 225 miles on one battery charge, and goes from zero to sixty in less than four seconds. Its cost is up from $100,000 to $109,000.

Joe Nocera, a business writer in The New York Times test-drove the car in mid-July, writing. “I spent an afternoon this week at Tesla Motors, Elon Musk’s (the creator of Pay Pal, and the major investor) electric car company, which finally began shipping its eye-popping all electric roadster to customers in March. It’s a spectacular vehicle…” Much of the interest in the car revolves around the possibility that it may engender enough excitement that a new electric era for automobiles may evolve. (See story below.)

Has the Revolution Started?

In March of this year, a story headlined, Creative Destruction — the All Electric Car = The End of Oil?” ran in this column. It described how the economic theory of Creative Destruction could transform “the way the automobile industry has worked for the past 100 years.” How an Israeli (now in America) software engineer named Shai Agassi, has sold the Israeli government on the concept of eventually replacing the country’s entire fleet of gasoline powered cars with an all-electric battery operated car that would eliminate the need for imported oil.

Mentioned was the fact that “Agassi has gained the backing of Renault-Nissan’s Chief Executive, Carlos Ghosn, whose company will produce the cars. Ghosn has been quoted as saying, “Zero emissions, zero noise—it will be the most environmentally friendly produced car on the market.”

An article the end of July in The New York Times noted the opening of Nissan’s new U.S. headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, quoting Mr. Ghosn that Nissan plans to sell all-electric cars in the U.S. by 2010. Interestingly, The Times wrote that “To help its development of electric cars, Nissan said that it would work with the state of Tennessee and its largest electric utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, to study and perhaps install infrastructure like charging stations.” This is based on the model developed by Shai Agassi that will be implemented in Israel.

The Times article also described how General Motors was working with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute, which represents more than 30 large electric utilities in North America, to encourage development of electric vehicles. G.M is developing the Chevrolet Volt, also for introduction in 2010, which can go 40 miles on battery power before switching to its gas-powered engine. This latter information was also outlined in the March Viewpointe article.

Science Fiction? Perhaps Not.

Those were the ending words of last month’s story about Space Solar Power that Viewpointe readers received in the mail exactly one week before The New York Times published a similar story headlined “Harvest the Sun from Space.” I’m not accusing the Times of plagiarism, but here is what The Times wrote: “Science fiction? Actually, no — the technology already exists. A space solar power system would involve building large solar energy collectors in orbit around the earth. These panels would collect far more energy than land-based units, which are hampered by weather low angles of the sun in northern climes and of course the darkness of night.” Consider that stories published in newspapers are submitted perhaps a day or two earlier than the actual publication date. Stories submitted to Viewpointe are done so more than three weeks in advance. Remember the Mel Brooks famous line, “It’s good to be the king.”? It’s good to scoop The New York Times.

Nuclear’s Tangled Economics

That was a headline in the July 7 th issue in Business Week (BW) that discussed John McCain’s solution to our energy problem. The conclusions drawn in that article coincided with those in the alternative energy article that appeared in the July issue of Viewpointe. Business Week pointed out that, “In a mid-June speech, part of a continuing blitz on energy issues, McCain laid out his vision for 100 new nuclear plants — 45 of them to be built by 2030. They would help meet America’s energy needs, and because nukes don’t emit greenhouse gases, they would fight global warming as well.” The Viewpointe article agreed with a caveat: “While nuclear power is an attractive alternative, a number of issues must be considered.”

Based on a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Viewpointe article cited sharply escalating construction costs and spent fuel disposal problems as significant inhibiting factors. BW identified several nuclear power industry executives who concurred with that conclusion. “‘The country badly needs new nuclear plants to deal with the climate issue,’ says John W. Rowe, chief executive officer of Exeloon, currently the largest nuke operator, and chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group. ‘But they are very expensive, high risk projects.’”

BW explains, “In fact, building new ones won’t happen without hefty government support.” That support would require tax credits “which could be worth more than $140 million per reactor per year.(My emphasis). Adrian Heymer, senior director for new plant development at the Nuclear Energy Institute says, “I’m not quite sure the number McCain put out is obtainable.” If those tax credits mentioned above ($140 million X 45=$6 billion 300 million) were applied to the implementation of other alternative sources of clean energy, we would benefit from much quicker and much less risky results.

T. Boone Pickens — Blowing In the Wind

If you watch CNBC, it would be difficult to miss the TV commercials featuring T. Boone Pickens promoting his vision of the new world of wind power. The commercials began to run several weeks after his new wind power enterprise was described in the June issue of Viewpointe. Pickens also wrote an opinion piece in the July 7 th edition of the Wall Street Journal titled “My Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil” citing wind power as the solution.

On July 22 ndThe New York Times ran a very favorable editorial on both the concept and on Pickens himself, although it also pointed out (as did the Viewpointe article) that as “a conservative, he helped underwrite and made no apologies for the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry.” It also mentioned (as did the Viewpointe article), “his friends in the White House.” Only now, as you will read below, that designation may be overstated.

On July 24 th, one day before this article was submitted for publication, another opinion piece ran in The New York Times, this one written by Timothy Egan, who as part of a group of reporters won a Pulitzer Prize. Titled “The Oil Man Cometh,” Egan writes as follows: “And what the 80 year old Pickens says, in a $58 million campaign, is that we can’t drill our way to lower gas prices. By implication, anybody who tells you a fraud.” Egan quotes Pickens as saying that the attempts by his political party to convince the public that if we just opened up all those forbidden areas to oil drilling, then gas prices would fall “is totally misleading.” He’s not against new drilling, but he is honest enough to say it wouldn’t do anything. Egan skewers Pickens on the Swift Boat deal.

If you would like to see Pickens himself describe his plan (which incidentally is quite compelling), go to Whatever you may think of Pickens’ politics, the man is no fool.


At 12:55 PM, Blogger NHB said...


Thank you for the 'Redux' -- a great summary piece highlighting some of the key foci of our current energy discussions.

Stories like the one about Shai Agassi should be front page news. There should be an excitement at the potential of a green economy -- and of the US as the leader in the development of new green inventions, technologies, and jobs!

Everyone is focused on what we have to give up to switch to alternatives (the term itself is a pejorative one) -- why aren't we as a country rising to the occasion, meeting this challenge and positioning ourselves as a leader?

Blue collar manufacturing jobs and access to higher education and better opportunities were the bedrock of what made America the beacon to the world during our most prosperous era.

Developing solar, wind and other energy and approaches to both eliminate dependency on a finite resource and one with so many costs (from economic to environmental to sociopolitical -- and ultimately human, in terms of bloodshed) should be everyone's rallying battle cry -- including our besotted media.

Here's a recent article that has seen virtually no coverage, for instance:

Major Discovery:from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution


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