Rest Area Interstate 84, exit 188, Hermiston, Oregon, December 16, 2016
I passed this rest area just before the exit to my assigned fuel stop. When I got to the truck Stop, there was a line of trucks backed up on the ramp up to the fuel islands, The road was gravel with frozen slush and trucks were slipping around like so many novice ice skaters. A rig coming out stopped and the driver put down his window, as I did in response. He tells me to avoid the place unless I need fuel. I did need fuel of course. I am instructed to buy fuel here and there is no escape, but I thanked him for trying. To say this did not bode well is to belabor the obvious. Why did he stop to speak to me specifically, ignoring the others in line? I can only guess that he was once a driver for The Company, like myself.
When the column of trucks moved forward, my wheels slipped. I had locked the differential and so had all eight drive wheels spinning. Fortunately, no one was yet behind me. I let the whole rig slide back a bit and then steered off the frozen slush ruts to newer snow, a trick I had just recently learned while walking to rest area bathrooms. That made some forward progress possible.
Most of my readers are unfamiliar with icy sidewalks, so while I am on the subject of walking on ice, it also pays to take small steps, keep your hands free to wave around for balance and don’t let anyone rush you. I was exiting the commuter train station in Oslo, Norway once (I worked for a Norwegian company, then). All the locals were in a hurry to get somewhere and I was swept up in the crowd. I made a faux pas (French for “stupid mistake” – I never learned Norwegian) and I slipped on that invisible trap they call black ice. I landed on the back of my head. Lucky it wasn’t some important part. It must have looked bad because a woman screamed. I told my coworkers about it and for the rest of the week, they watched me for demented behavior – more than usual, that is.
The fuel islands were chaos. The truck ahead of me could not gain traction and he finally threw his tire chains under his wheels to make it to the pumps. He wasn’t the first one to try that. When I got to the pumps, I found some poor miscreant’s set of tire chains frozen in the ice. I managed to fuel the tractor and pull up past the islands, to find what military men call a Charlie Foxtrot. As I am sure I have mentioned before, this is a mnemonic phrase for an abbreviation of a “colorful” (obscene) expression for a massively confused and disorganized collection of human activity. I did not take any pictures, because no one likes to be recorded in their misery and because I was busy struggling to get by, myself.
After fueling there was a bottleneck to exit where six lanes converge to one and trucks attempting to park are sliding around blocking the way. Forty five minutes later, I was back on the entrance ramp, but exiting. I wanted to warn the poor fool I saw entering, but I was in no mood to stop. So, I just made the sigh of the cross at him (May God bless you, my son). He was probably wondering what I was trying to tell him. I am sure it occurred to him a bit later. 😉
There might have been a space I could have snagged by blocking the flow, but I wanted out of there. Dante’s Inferno includes a section of Hell where sinners are imbedded in a frozen icy plane and this was beginning to resemble same.
I intentionally reversed my course (a trucker taboo) on the Interstate, found an overpass and returned to this rest area that I passed before. There were two other trucks with three spaces between them. I pulled into the center one.
Above: The serenity of the Rest Area contrasts with the Dante’s Inferno of the Frozen Truck Stop
I promised Montana pictures and I have not forgotten. Events accumulate quickly in this Walkabout and I struggle to keep up. Things worthy of notice happen while I am remembering events of days past. Hence, this method of the standard font when remembering and the italics to describe what is happening in the moment. If it confuses you, imagine how I feel! About half the time, I can’t say what State I am in (other than that State of Confusion).
I am a bit like Columbus. He did not know where he was going, didn’t know where he was when he got there and didn’t know where he had been when he got back.
The Moon over Montana, setting just before the sun rises behind me.
Arriving at those distant mountains seen before. The sky brightens with the dawn
Gnarly mountains garnished with fresh snow
An outcropping of rock too steep for trees interrupts the forest.
A river crossing. Please excuse the dirty windshield. Some of the most impressive views are not available for photography since bridges and the winding mountain pass roads require two-handed attention. This one was an “easy bridge”. I remind the readers that the walls at the edges of bridges and scenic steep drop-offs are about three feet tall. That would stop a passenger car from careening over the edge. But, my Decaton cargo is stacked on a trailer floor that starts at about three feet above the ground and continues to a height approaching fourteen feet. It would easily careen over the wall and into a river or over a thousand foot cliff. The wall, in fact would only insure that the rig would tumble into the abyss, rather than merely plunge into same. Therefore, I must admit that many of the most stunning vistas pass unphotographed while I strangle the steering wheel with both hands!
Through a National Forest.
The river shares the valley with the highway.
A snow covered rest area somewhere in the middle. I should make notes of where these pictures are taken. So quickly pass the miles and the vivid scenery that time and place are soon forgotten.
A Study in Contrast. Very black cows on very white snow (this photo has run away – I will try to find it and force it back here – life is hard for photos;-)
Moonshine on the snow illuminates the landscape in a soft and eerie blue light. I am not sure what caused that streak, just left of center. I am sure it is not a comet, because I’ve seen a few.
Out of the mountain pass into a valley. The photos just do not convey the majesty of the vista that reveals itself to me as I descend. It was far more breathtaking than what you see here. I guess you just have to be there in person to get the full impact. You may begin to understand what drives me to travel.
The mountains loom over me as I glance (keeping eyes mostly on the road) up at them. I am only half-joking when I say that I could have sold tickets for the trip I made across Big Sky Country. The photos may hint at that awesome beauty, but far more vivid images remain only in my memory. This is a sign for Exit Zero, at the Western end of Montana.
Over The Road
The word “whence” is a Middle English term that means “from where”. Use of this word has the advantage of eliminating dangling prepositions (as in: Where does electricity come from?) and avoidance of sounding like Yoda (Comes from where, electricity does?).
A great many people have the idea that it is possible to eliminate “fossil fuels” and nuclear power from our energy supplies and that “electricity” is the means by which that will be accomplished. That “Renewable Ideal” is founded upon a grand misconception and a stunning lack of common sense – as will become apparent while we contemplate this question: “Whence Electricity?”.
The Reality as it Exists (2016)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a survey of US energy use every year. The results are published in a flow chart that requires considerable snaky-eyed concentration to understand. But, I eyed the 2016 Livermore data for you to make this simple pie-chart of electricity in percentage by source:
All graphs are generated by the author and the numbers are from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories
Note: For purposes of this report, commercial sources of energy are capitalized – as in the graph above.
The most obvious lesson here is that Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear power (with a tiny bit of Petroleum) provide the vast majority – some eighty five percent – of electric generation in the US. The remaining 15% that might be considered to be “environmentally correct” – we will refer to them as “Renewables”.
If you did not know this before, you will be further surprised that the amount of “Fossil Fuel” (and Nuclear) to be replaced in the electric grid is just the beginning of the task.
There are some limitations that characterize the sources called “Renewables” that must be considered.
Hydro-Electric Generation (Hydro)
Hydro is a simple, inexpensive and reliable source of electricity that – unfortunately – has lost its “Green Credentials”. Environmental “wisdom” doesn’t like those dams on rivers and they are now “all-in” on tearing them down. Hydro is dwindling slowly and can be expected to die a slow, lingering death by Green politics. You may think of Hydro as “Renewable” and that’s fine. If you want to claim it is reliable, this reporter will disagree. Your Humble Narrator once visited his in-laws in Bogota, Columbia (he’s a diplomat). They had rolling black-outs because their Hydro projects were suffering from an extended drought (and funds for electrical development that somehow were mis-directed to politicians’ pockets). Blind luck that the Bogota (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora, Santa Fe De Bogota) has a climate mild enough to do without power at home for 8 hours. Kerosene lamps, candles and propane stoves were enough to get by. Business is another matter and the streets of the Capital were filled with gasoline generators running furiously outside the buildings and snaky extension cords going inside. Hydro requires back-up – even if ad-hoc.
The source of Biomass in electricity generation is mostly industrial and agricultural waste that is burned to generate electricity. Those sources exist because engineers are making efficient use of what would otherwise be an expense nuisance. Most of those opportunities have already been realized, but you may count on that increasing as industry itself expands. Ethanol and biodiesel are generally not used to generate electricity but do make up a small percentage of transportation fuel (which we have not addressed in this electric discussion).
The U.S. has the most Geothermal generation of any country and it is still quite small when compared to the total. It could be expanded, but since it typically involves drilling holes in the Earth, fracturing and using groundwater for a working fluid (unlike petroleum operations), it is also in danger of losing its “Green Credentials”.
Wind is currently subsidized by tax credits and production mandates which make them quite profitable to build. There are major windfarms now under construction. This author has seen fields of hundreds of turbines now being erected in Texas and Kansas – as well as a vast staging yard with parts for hundreds more. Wind provides the dominant part of growth in Renewable generation.
Photoelectric and solar-furnace generation is small but growing, though not as quickly as Wind.
Wind and Solar provide pretty much the only significant growth in Renewables. And that growth amounts to: 0.29 Quadrillion BTUs per year. You see that growth rate graphed as a vertical green bar (i.e., flat green square) next to the orange bar representing 2016 total Conventional electricity capability that the Renewable Ideal would have us replace.
To examine what this “replacement” will require, we will assume that
The graph below shows the timeline for replacement of the Conventional Electric Generation (orange line) and for replacement of both that and the Gasoline and Natural Gas transportation.
The orange line represents total “Conventional” electric generation for 2016 and we have assumed that will not increase. The yellow line is the total of Conventional electric and Gasoline energy expended in the Transportation sector. We have assumed that neither of these will increase. The green line represents Renewable generation increasing at the same rate as the last two years – when it has been quite actively increasing at unsustainable rates. It is assumed that Renewable installations last forever.
In that case, full replacement of Conventional generation can be had by 2109 and replacement of that plus Gasoline and Natural Gas by 2169.
If – on the other hand – it is assumed that such installations last 50 years (a bit more reasonable, but again, overly generous) the years of both “replacement” points can be changed to “never” – as indicated by the blue curve.
There is More
Wind and Solar – which make up the Lion’s share of Renewable growth – are intermittent by their very nature. Solar interruptions are mostly as predictable as the sunset and cause about a 60% full-blown outage every single day. Wind on the other hand, can fail you at any moment – either by calm or storm. Your Humble Narrator has seen whole wind farms in Wyoming standing idle in the fierce winds that frequent that state. They would have been torn apart in the shifting, gusting conditions if they weren’t locked down.
Intermittent energy sources are dependent on other sources of generation. The most clearly relevant of those others are Coal and Gas. Nuclear has so long been long demonized and over-regulated that it will, at best stay constant, and will be of little help in backing up Wind and Solar.
One might come up with the idea of more Renewables as backup. It does not require much thought to see the flaw in that reasoning.
What that means is that Conventional sources of electricity simply cannot be replaced unless you can convince every electric customer to live with intermittent service. That did not happen in the aforementioned Bogota example and will not happen here. However, the attempt would make for Gargantuan sales of home generators – make mine a diesel, please.
So, the “All renewable” points in that graph are nothing less that Absolute Fantasy. Wind and Solar must be backed up completely (that is to say 100%) with Fossil Fuels or Nukes!
Even if we imagine that windmills and solar panels last forever – after 90 to 150 years of hideous expense, there will be just as much “non-renewable” electric capacity as before. The difference will be that the non-renewable plants will mostly be wastefully idling, waiting for the Sun to go down or the winds to calm.
P.S. Some of you are saying, “What about batteries, then?”
First off, you sound like Brits.
Second, I will address this in “Around Robin Hood’s Barn in an Electric Car – Part Two”
Proprietor Maria is also a Dream Vacations travel agent. Saturday, October 26 will find the company’s booth at the Energy Corridor Farmers’ Market (E.C.F.M.) at 14710 Grisby Rd., Houston, TX 77079 near Highway 6 and the Katy (I-10) Freeway. Please see the map below. Drop by and have a look, after Nine AM.
Not long ago, one of my Road Trip Interest Group members (you know who you are) asked this question:
“When was the last Ice Age?”
The term “Ice Age” is somewhat ambiguous. Fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are extreme and take place over many periods of time. There have been eras when the Earth was completely devoid of ice. There have been other times when all the Earth’s oceans had completely turned to ice. So, when was the last “Ice Age”?
The most recent time that has been referred to by that name was the “Little Ice Age”(LIA). When exactly that was depends on who you ask. The chart below defines the LIA as being between the years 1400 and 1800 AD. This was a time that saw mountain villages in Europe consumed by glaciers. The “Frost Fairs” on the frozen River Thames in London happened at these times and the story of Hans Brinker, likewise. There is ample evidence of the LIA in art, literature and history. That painting of George Washington un-wisely standing in a rowboat, while his men push big chunks of ice in the Delaware out of the way? LIA, again. Below is a graph of results for last two millenia of proxy derived temperature differences. You see the Little Ice Age as well as what came before.
Timespan: 2000 Years
These are differences in temperatures derived from examination of cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet. Where that zero axis falls depends on how much time is included in the graph. So, these data do not tell us what a thermometer would have said then. But, the historical record tells us that during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) Greenland was occupied by an agricultural civilization where none at that level of technology would be possible in today’s climate. In Alaska there are glaciers that have retreated from the Little Ice Age and uncovered immense tree-stumps still rooted in the ground. There are no such climax forests there today.
They date to about one thousand years ago. So, we know for a fact that the temperatures were warmer then than now. There are some who imagine that this was only the case for the North Atlantic. But, Alaska is not on the Atlantic, is it? And ice cores from Antarctica tell pretty much the same story.
The time before the LIA was much warmer than the climate today. The MWP was, itself just another in a series of warm periods, starting with the Minoan Warm Period and occurring roughly every 1000 years. Below is a graph of oxygen-Isotope proxy temperature anomalies.
Timespan: 11,000 years.
The last “Ice Age” (without the “Little” modifier) is to be seen at the extreme left of the Holocene graph in figure 2. It is more accurately referred to as a “Glaciation” and is a part of a (roughly) one-hundred thousand-year oscillation of extreme cold followed by short periods (10,000 years or less) of warm weather. This cycle is revealed, among other places – in the Vostok and EPICA Ice Core Projects in Antarctica.
Timespan 450,000 years
You see that our current situation is an “Interglacial” age called the Holocene Climate Optimum that comes after the “Ice Age” (Glaciation). The Eemian which came before that Glaciation is another Interglacial in a long series of same, stretching back half a million years – at least. The Holocene appears to be significantly cooler than the previous Interglacials – all of them. (Put that in your “Global Warming” pipe and smoke it! 😉 )
While the future is not yet determined, it looks very much like the Holocene is about over and the next Glaciation is soon to be expected.
But, in all of this, there is still ice at the poles and on mountaintops. The Glaciations seem to be the rule and the “Interglacials”, the exceptions. Could we not say that the entire timespan above was a part of a larger “Grand Ice Age” with only the interglacial times interrupting?
What happens if we widen the time span? Below is a graph of ocean sediment-derived temperatures.
Timespan: Five Million Years.
The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this seafloor sediment “proxy” of temperature. Notice those thousand-century cycles are a recent phenomenon (relatively speaking) and followed a period of 41,000 year cycles. Before that was a much warmer time. There is fossil evidence that those were times when there was little or no ice on Earth at all.
Be warned that they will bring up “Global Warming” even though they can’t point to five-million-year-old Ford Explorers or make any reasonable defense of “Man-made Global Warming”. -Steve
Quote about Antarctica:
“She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”
“These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech. At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.”
The “deep freeze” referred to is when we live now!
WELCOME TO THE GRAND ICE AGE!
It may surprise you to learn that you have been here all along.
I have driven this route a couple of times, but I wish I had seen this video before, just so I could have appreciated the Geology I was passing through.
Your Humble Narrator is not on his normal literary “turf” and hastens to get back to more light-hearted prose. He hopes his loyal readers will excuse this short tour past the “dark side”. The story may be found at AmericanThinker.com. Click the link below the next paragraph.
This story has haunted me since I was a student at UT Austin. The “incident” happened some years before I arrived, but it still hung over the campus like the shadow of a certain Clock Tower. It was brought to the forefront of my conscience in 2006 in a Texas Monthly article on the 40th anniversary. From that and what I already knew, there seemed to be some lessons that we had not taken to heart. The idea incubated in my scatter-brain mind for the next 12 years…
Over The Road