Tag: Travel

Under Sail Once More – Westward Bound

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August 4, 2016 – Canton,  Texas  (Transplanted from WordPress page)

Despite the massive incompetence that passes for management in the Walmart distribution center in Johnstown in upstate New York, the gate guards and  receiving staff were most polite and helpful. It just goes to show you that places are often remembered for their least admirable details.  Another New York example of that phenomenon  is their Arrogant Senator, the lower case chuck schumer.

When finally it came, it had been a “live” unloading, which means that I hung around while they unloaded the trailer I had brought.  First, they assign you a door and hand you a pager.  You are then expected to back the trailer into the door and wait for the cargo to be unloaded.  There is a mechanical arm that grabs the bumper of your trailer, in addition to wheel chocks and the trailer brakes that prevent you from moving while the forklifts run in and out the trailer carrying pallets of meat.  These precautions were not apparently enough to assuage the misgivings of Safety, so we are required to disconnect the tractor from the trailer and a receiving foremen locks out the trailer air hose connector as well.  The subject of airbrakes could make an entire post and I’ll put that on the list.


Besides all that, there is a red light flashing by the door, visible in your driver-side mirror that prohibits you from moving anything.   When the light turns green, we ain’t done yet! You have to wait until the pager explodes with flashing blue neon lights and go to the receiving window to get the paperwork.  All this may take four or five hours.  Some shippers and receivers have no concern whatsoever for the fact that drivers are paid by the mile and sitting in a door is a zero mileage trip.

By contrast, the next load I delivered was to Golden State Foods in Garner, NC.  There, I was admitted within 10 minutes of arrival.  I had only to back the trailer into a cargo door (no  need even to open the trailer doors), disconnect from (drop) that trailer and hook up to the trailer in the next door…and leave.  The whole thing took less than an hour.  See, New York?

Fortunately, the next load was only 37 miles away.  Unfortunately, the appointment to pick up was the next morning at 1 PM.  However, they give themselves until 11 PM to actually come across with the load. twenty eight hours away in time.  You can bet that it will happen within a half hour of that last deadline.  Here at Clayton, NC,  they will waste your time, but they will also give you a place to park and wait, on site (unlike Walmart, NY).   I took that load of meat to Texas in two full days of travel totaling over 1100 miles.   Now I sit in a truck stop at Canton, Texas for about 18 hours, in order to arrive in Garland, Texas at the proper time tomorrow.  I could have stopped further out, but then I risk being late for some accident or traffic jam.  The Federal regulations and the company’s speed limits have made this job a game of “Hurry Up and Wait”.

The First Mate was in Dallas with youngest son for University “camp” and she drove out to see me.  We took some photos. 

Definition:  First Mate – an officer on a ship , second in rank only to the  Captain  and responsible for the security of both Captain and Vessel.

CaptainAtTheHelm

Above: The Captain at the Helm

FirstMateRelaxes2

 The First Mate

Richmond

I am moving posts from the old WordPress site to Goingwalkabout.blog.  Please excuse the apparent anachronisms.

SteveTrucker2

August 1, 2016

Richmond, Virginia

Several of you have suggested that I need to post more photos and I agree.  Now that I am a solo driver, it is difficult for me to take photos while driving. I must keep my eyes on the road and I can snap un-aimed photos out the window – about one in ten are worth looking at.  So, mostly I will concentrate on photos while parked.  And where better to start than what is outside right now.

ViewFromCaptainsBunk2.jpg

Above:  The view from the “Captain’s Cabin”.

This is the vista that greets me this morning.  I am at a Pilot Truck Stop to the South of Richmond Virginia.  My truck is backed into a row of trucks that looks out on to the fuel isles.  From left to right, top to bottom:  The white truck over there would normally be hustled off by the  manager for blocking the Scales.  The reason he has not been is just barely visible as a Safety Ribbon indicating that the scales are currently out of order.  As I mentioned before, these scales are used by the majority of drivers to check their legality.  You might think that shippers would assure this, but you would be mistaken.  The driver is alone responsible for legal road weight.

The scale measures weights by the axle (or tandem).  The “ticket” received has four numbers that tell the driver all he needs to know. I’ll post a photo of same. The black rectangle at lower left covers my company’s name.  We won’t talk about them, yet.

ScaleTicket.jpg

The first weight is the front wheels that steer the truck.  Those are allowed to carry 12,000 pounds.  The next number is the weight of the drive axles – that is the cluster of eight wheels directly behind the driver that move the truck.  They, together, are allowed 34,000 pounds of weight.  As you see, I came in exactly on the limit and I’ll be buying a lottery ticket today.  The next number is the weight on the trailer wheels and that is also limited to 34,000 pounds.  What I did after this was to slide the trailer wheels forward to balance the load, overshooting by a hundred or two. After that, I put some more fuel in the tractor, so the two should be as close to balanced as makes no difference.  The last number is the combination total and that may be as much as 80,000 pounds.  For reference, a passenger car may weight about 2000 or 3000 pounds.  This is the Major Leagues, people!

 

Back to the view above.  The fuel stations each have two diesel pumps because the trucks all have a  fuel tank on each side.  They are filled simultaneously.  It is necessary for me to also pull up about 20 feet after fueling the tractor and fuel the trailer tank that feeds the refrigeration unit.  Obviously, that must be independent of the tractor, since these trailers may spend much time alone, waiting for transport.  When the place is busy, the trucks line up behind one another and ettiquete demands that when you are through fueling, you pull up and leave room for the next guy before you go in for your receipt and coffee, etc.  This has the effect of creating parking across from the fuel bays that has a long, easy backing situation for drivers who do not excel at backing (i.e., your humble narrator).

In the cab, you see (left) the curtain which, with its  mate on the right, closes for Captain’s privacy.  Then the Driver’s chair (very comfortable) and the steering wheel.  Next the instrument panel (I know what almost all of those do).  Above that is the satellite communication and navigation unit.  This is the source of the computer voice “Jill” who tells me where to go.  Below the panel is the transmission shifter (Nine forward gears and two reverse).  Right of that is the Captain’s Office.  It only looks like a piece of plywood with a laptop on it.  I am seated there now, writing this.  Both seats have armrests as you see on the Office chair.  The plastic bag in the foreground, right is the ship’s bakery, with a loaf of whole wheat bread.

I need to be rolling soon.

Over the Road,

Steve

One, Two, Three, Etc.

For Saturday October 26:       

One, Two, Three, Etc. is an arts and craft company in Houston that offers Peruvian  jewelry, ornaments and accessories at local Craft Shows and Farmers’ Markets.

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OneTwoThreeEtcLayoutCruiseOne
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.

 

EnergyCorrFarmers

The Grand Ice Age

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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 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

MWP_LIA
Figure 1: The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA).

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.

mendenhall_Tree_Stumps
Thousand-year-old tree stump uncovered by the Mendenhall Glacier’s retreat from the Little Ice Age

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. 

GISP_Holocene_Anotated_NO_CO2
Figure 2.  Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP) temperature differences derived from ice cores.

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

EPICA_VOSTOK_Annotated
Figure 3.  Antarctic Ice-core derived temperature differences.

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.

Five_Myr_Climate_ChangeAnnote
Figure 4.  Temperature differences derived from ocean sediments

The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this “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.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-12378934

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.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Ice Age Now and I-90 Rocks

I am doing research for yet another article that takes me to  Ice Age Now the blog of Robert Felix (Ice Age Bob).    Bob’s current first page features a video from YouTube called I-90 Rocks.

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.

 

https://www.iceagenow.info/ice-age-lakes-between-seattle-and-the-cascades-video/

 

Having Left the Highway

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In the 16 months I spent “Over the Road” there were more than a few trucks that left that road to be seen along the way.  I managed to photograph only a few.

Wisconsin

This victim had to be in Wisconsin.  I say that because of the red barn.  

Wreck_WisconsinYou see that the axles are separated singles, not tandems.  That is generally to meet bridge weight limits on secondary roads.

WIBARNMONTAGE.png

The Crimson Cowsheds are so common in Wisconsin that I made a montage of same.  You will note the renegade blue barn at lower right.

Wyoming

This one was on I-80, east of Cheyenne.  It was probably not a blow over – unless perhaps from the  afternoon before.  The weather was calm when I passed – as it tends to be in the morning. 

Wreck_WY

On a later trip through Wyoming, I was called from Cheyenne to swap out with another driver at Rowling.  The trip started badly with the trailer being blown around with ever-increasing intensity. The wind was picking up quickly and the weather radio was talking about 45 mph gusts at Rowling.  I noticed all the windmills were locked down, motionless and the programable warning signs had the message “Extreme Blow Over Risk”.  I finally had to put myself and my empty trailer on weather standby when I could not maintain my lane. There was plenty of company at the parking pull-out that exists for just such occasions.  It was there that I noticed that my passenger-side neighbor had a cat in his cab.

CatInATruck

Many drivers have their “mascots” but 99% are dogs.  Over-the-Road life gets surreally solitary.  I could put up with it because I am a loner by nature and writing kept me sane – well…almost.

.CatInABoxMy wife offered me the “middle cat”, Pepper, who likes to get in the car.  But, I could not imagine walking a cat around a truck stop on a leash for “ablutions” – especially this particular cat.

    I had the distinct feeling that this swap was with another sane driver who pulled off in Rowling with a full trailer to avoid the same windstorm.  While I waited for dusk and the calm that usually comes then, the gusts increased to 65 mph.  When finally I could roll – without rolling over – the swap had been cancelled.  I was sent instead to Nebraska for a load that I would pull right back across Wyoming the next day.

    That day the warnings were less extreme (just “Blow Over Risk” – no extremities).  My full load kept me grounded, but even so, there were two rigs on their sides by the road.  Neither had seals or locks on their back doors – a sure sign they were both empty. 

WreckWY_BackUpThis is the second one over by the Utah border.  It had been put back on to its wheels (although still listing precipitously to the right) by a heavy duty wrecker that was just hooking up to tow it away. 

Tennessee

 Blow Over is not the only risk.  In crossing Tennessee (the short way), this scene appeared 

TennesseeConflagrationCrop

The trucks in the foreground had no doubt stopped to help.  Every rig has at least one fire extinguisher.  It looks like a Schneider (orange) box van on fire. 

TenesseeConflagClose

As I passed, the rise in the median intervened and little but smoke and flames were visible.

Oklahoma

Overturned (3) 

This Volvo with its flatbed was the worst accident I managed to photograph.  It had apparently crossed opposing traffic and rolled completely over on its cargo.  The cab was crushed and I could not see how a driver might have survived this. 

Dallas

WreckAtPurgatoryThis was all that was left of one of those Black Company tractors.  I am not ever sure of the make.  They brought it back to Purgatory to use as a visual aid in Safety Class.  All the students were marched out past this and lectured by an instructor as a part of a cautionary tale.

The driver had been “facetiming” with his girlfriend when he blundered into a family in a rented motor home.  Ironically, they had been taking it easy in the slow lane for safety.  Both the tractor and the motor home burned to the ground.  Incredibly, no one was killed or injured.

About the time of the 35th anniversary of said Company, there was a commemorative trailer painted with celebratory murals brought around to this “gathering point” and the poor burnt-to-a-crisp tractor was relegated to a back lot where it would not dampen the spirit.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

The St. Louis Arch at the End of the Open Road

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StLouisArchThe St Louis Arch is a reminder that the Peace of the Open Road will come to an end in Memphis tomorrow afternoon and the next day that “grim obligation” returns.

 Walkabout convention:  When you see text like this in italics it means that I am speaking in the moment of the date and place of the subtitle.  When the text is like this I am speaking of another time or place or both.

Loves Truck Stop, Interstate 29, exit 44  St. Joseph, Missouri – September 9, 2017

Tomorrow will be the fourth day of driving from Wallula, Washington to Memphis, Tennessee.  These are the most pleasant of times, when the toil of obtaining or liberating a cargo is absent from the list of exasperating tasks that must be fulfilled in a day’s work.  There is only the highway and most of it is in the most agreeable form – the open road. 

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with long stretches of highway that seem to go on eternally and present the observer with vast tableaus of intricate, awe-inspiring landscape.  To amble through this wonderland for days – without the grim obligation of mucking about in yards, wrangling trailers and dealing with guards and clerks – is a pleasure that transcends the mundane toil of what is a demanding and unrewarding occupation.

BensonMountainsOnTheWay To amble through this wonderland…

Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 20, exit 26  Atlanta, Georgia – September 12,  2017

Tropical Storm Irma has become a blob of rain and wind and I am somewhere near its center. There is only a constant drizzle this morning that replaces the steady downpour in which I found Atlanta. 

The truck stop was level one full when I arrived – meaning that all the “designated” parking was taken and not likely to change.  Level two was just beginning, which means that the “outliers” were finding the unofficial spaces where they won’t be in the way of commerce, i.e., not blocking the entrance, exit, fuel islands.  Your Humble Narrator found a really good spot over near – but separated from –  the automobile gas pumps.  I was worried that I would be asked to move, but that was purely paranoia of a person that does not often break rules.  Now that I awake, there are trucks parked beside me that begin to encroach upon the entrance.  No one is blocked, you understand, but every truck now entering is inconvenienced and has to carefully avoid my late-arriving neighbors.  After this “late stage two” comes stage three where emergency measures are in effect and trucks impede traffic, ignore no parking signs and pavement markings and occupy public street-sides to the point of impeding traffic.  I have only seen that once, in Ontario, Oregon where I was “snowed in” for about 30 hours.  You won’t hear about these parking “levels” anywhere else, because I just made up the system.  I think three levels are about appropriate, with the third being open-ended to include complete paralysis of traffic (a la Ontario) at its most extreme.

The delivery in Memphis went particularly well.  The staff at the receiver was polite, efficient and helpful.  The road to Atlanta was mostly unobstructed, but the rain began at Birmingham, Alabama and intensified steadily until it was the aforementioned “steady downpour” at Atlanta with wind gusts of an estimated 30 miles per hour.

The time has come to prepare for departure.  I deliver a second installment here in Atlanta and then on to Fort Mills, South Carolina and the Final.

Receivers Staging Lot, Atlanta, Georgia – September 12,  2017 – 9:22 AM

After five days of enjoyable driving, it is time to pay the piper with some uncompensated misery.  Arriving at 4:30 AM for a 6:00 AM appointment, we find a queue of trucks at the entrance.  I fall in line behind the last of them and wait.  I call the contact number and get voice mail where I leave my name, company, load number and phone.  Eventually, patience runs out and I walk to the gate, only to find another driver who also walked in.  No trace of any gate guards or receiving clerks.  Eventually, one of many autos entering stops to talk to the groups of drivers now numbering four.  Word is: after Six, if nobody shows up, enter the yard and pull up to the next gate. 

So, then we are lined up outside the next gate and I wander around looking for someone in authority, then give up and go back to the truck.  I call the contact number and leave another voice mail.  Finally the line starts to move and when we arrive at the front, I get out – bills in hand, safety vest on and they tell me to wait in the truck.  Ten minutes later the same guy tells me to go park down there and wait in the truck.  An hour later, I call  the contact number and leave another voice mail – and an hour after that, I opt for the operator, who passes my call to Tweedledee, who passes my call to Tweedledum who passes my call to voicemail. A call to the Company is next, just so they can share the pain. Grim thoughts and depression begin to consume the day.

 

Finally, I decide it’s time to do some writing – another uncompensated activity but far more satisfying – and a lumper shows up at the door to tell me to back into door 345.  Odd how that works.

Backing into doors has become less traumatic and this one – despite being a tight fit between a trailer and a full semi – is done with a minimum of trouble.  A message to the Company for the authorization of a lumper fee is completed and a check written.  The trailer is already gyrating with unloading activity.

You see how the mood has shifted from the open road to grubbing around in a Receiver’s yard!

 

Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 70 exit 188 Warrenton, Missouri – September 14, 2017

I passed road cuts in both North Carolina and Tennessee that looked like Black Marine Shale, or something similar.   My presentation “Energy, Oil, Gas and Shale” includes a list of shale plays in the US that lists the Chatanooga Shale in Tennessee and the Cumnock Shale in North Carolina.  Whether these were the formations I glimpsed is unknown, but possible.  After all, I re-discovered the Utica Shale while passing through Midstate New York.

I will look these up when I have a good internet connection.

A preliminary search reveals that both the Chatanooga and  Cumnock formations have been drilled and assessed to be productive sources of Natural Gas.  My impression is that the economics of both are as yet marginal – depending as they do on the price of Natural Gas.  Comments that a rise in the price of Natural Gas would stimulate activity and prosperity were common to the articles I read.  It occurs to me that both these and many others such plays should soon profit from the advancing technological advances in efficiency of NG production.  That would transcend the question of rising prices.

Houston Base (the kitchen table) – October 5, 2017

Once again, I am “at liberty”.  That’s a thirties era expression for unemployed.  Let’s call this a Leave of Absence.

I am, however, reunited with my long-suffering family. My health is recovering from the constant stress of non-stop driving and I get to go swimming every day again.

The job market seems to have improved.  I say “seems” because I am applying to jobs that match my experience very well.  None of them yet have even called me back for an interview and, as usual there is no address for a follow-up.  I’ll try to track down some humans to speak to at these places, but they prefer to hide behind job web sites.  At least one job disappeared and then re-appeared, so I applied to it again.  I had expected to get a message to the effect that I had applied already, but it went straight through to “submitted”.  Perhaps this is their strategy to weed out the less desperate.

One application came with a word problem math test.  They trick the questions up.  For example, with changes in units like days, hours, weeks and “two-week periods” all in the same problem.  And one question about income from customers said “they get 7 customers every month, starting with 10 in the first month.”  This is a set-up to assume that they mean seven MORE customers every month.  But that is not what that sentence says.  So, I suspect that the total number of customers in a year is 87, not the 495 that accumulation would suggest.  The question is ambiguous and requires an assumption.  Bastards. Software managers – but I repeat myself.

 It was a timed test as well, not allowing for the contemplation that revealed the deception.  I expect I did better than most would, but it has been years…alright decades…since I have dealt with such “trip-you-up” exam vultures as these.  If they do offer me a job, I will double my very meager and desperate salary request, just to compensate me for having to work with such Smart-Asses.   

Back to the Walkabout now

There were some dastardly receiving yards in the last weeks that tried my nerves.  One, in particular assigned me a parking spot (number 253) where I was bound to insert my empty trailer before I could hook the loaded one to actually go out and earn money.  The montage below shows the passenger side (L) and drivers side (R) when finally I managed to make the empty fit into the space – well over one hour later.

TIghtFItMontageMontage of Empty Slot Number 253

I was fortunate to capture a yard worker on the passenger side for to give some idea at the scale.  You will notice that the man’s head would not fit between the trailers.  Yes, I left more space on the driver’s side and drivers will know why.  I have to squeeze my XL body into that gap to crank down the landing gear and pull the fifth-wheel latch to disconnect the trailer.  My head HAS to fit between those two trailers.  It was – just barely – possible.  The Yard tractor has a hydraulic lift that can do without these activities.  And before I get through complaining – there were trailers across the way that made a “straight-line backup” impossible.  I TURNED the trailer into this space – backward while looking in a mirror, people!  I will remind you of what I have said many times.  This activity I do FOR FREE, just so I can get back on the road and actually earn money!  I won’t tell you who this yard owner is because they might sue me for revealing how they abuse the people who carry their stuff.

P.S.  Don’t worry TVS – I’ll keep it “civil” for your article.  🙂

Over-the-Road,

Steve

Changing Energy Use in The United States

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Steve Campbell           November 2015

Introduction

It is a habit of modern environmental advocates to insist upon doing away with fossil fuels and using only “renewable energy”. Fossil fuels are defined by as “a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.” (1). According to the US department of Energy, renewable energy includes “solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy and water (hydroelectric)” (2).

If asked whether that replacement is possible or practical, most of those same environmental advocates (hereinafter referred to as: “Greens”) would enthusiastically reply in the positive, as if it is an obvious thing. It did not seem obvious to me and so I made an examination of modern energy use in the United States. At some point in the following pages, I will express a few opinions. But, I promise to end with some solidly founded conclusions.

The numbers

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a yearly assessment of energy use in the United States. It includes sources of energy, amounts of each source and what use is made of it by what sector of the economy. They publish a very interesting summary (3) of the results which you will see in Figure A. The amounts of energy are in Quadrillion British Thermal Units (which are mercifully referred to simply as “Quads”). A Quad is the equivalent of about 180 million barrels of petroleum. But, the important issue in this analysis is the portions that each source contributes to the total.

LivermoreUS_EnergyUse

Figure A: Energy Use in the United States 2014

Analysis

I will just look at the total energy use for this analysis. The numbers on the left side of the chart are detailed in the table in Figure B, below. The Non-renewables are in blue, the renewables in green. I have included Nuclear with the fossil fuels only because greens are as strongly opposed to that as they are to fossil fuels, if not more so. The table is depicted in a pie chart in figure C.

  EnergyUse2014Table  

Figure B: Energy sources and amount contributed to the total

EnergyUse2014Chart

Figure C: Pie chart of values in figure B, labeled by percent of total

The next pie chart in Figure D, has the fossil fuels and Nuclear plotted as blanks to show what needs to be replaced in the “total renewable” scenario. The result speaks for itself. Ninety percent of the current energy use is unacceptable to the Greens.

GreenEnergyComeUpShort

Figure D: The renewable fraction of US energy use in the US in 2014

So, we are left with these ten percent which must expand to fill 100 percent. The simple idea that we just multiply the capacity for each source by ten will quickly run into some serious problems. I will, of course elaborate upon them next by considering each source individually.

Biomass

Biomass in the transportation sector is mostly ethanol made almost exclusively from corn or biodiesel from other food crops like soybeans. Both are driving up the global price of food and are not profitable without government subsidies. I would just add that energy is used in growing crops, transportation to factories, fermentation, distillation and transportation of the biofuel to market (in tanker trucks because ethanol corrodes pipelines). Fertilizer is typically manufactured from natural gas. So, unless all that energy use is also converted to renewables, you have not accomplished much change.

According to the New England Complex Systems Institute (4):

“1. The amount of corn used to produce the ethanol in a gallon of regular gas would feed a person for a day,

  1. The production of ethanol requires so much fossil fuel energy that its energy benefit is only about 20%…
  2. The cost of gas made with ethanol is actually higher per mile because ethanol reduces gasoline’s energy per gallon…

The US used over 45% of its 2011 corn crop to produce ethanol, up from under 15% before 2005 …–a rise dictated by federal mandate and promoted by federal subsidies. The drought in 2012 is leading to questions about whether using corn for fuel is reasonable while people go hungry due to a world food shortage…

The total amount of ethanol produced in the US in 2011 was 13.95 billion gallons, enough to feed 570 million people that year.” (emphasis mine, SC)

I tried to check these numbers and I keep coming up with 535 million. Until I am able to resolve this difference, I will use the lesser figure. But the difference is small and number is still staggering.

In either case, that number was so staggeringly big that I reviewed the assumptions in the calculations in Albino, et al (4). There are a few mitigating factors. For one, the caloric requirements cited were the minimum for survival. Also, the field corn used for ethanol production is otherwise used for animal feed and for intermediate products like corn flour, meal, starch or oil. In all those cases, the food value ultimately is less than in direct consumption. Nevertheless, the 500+ million figure is still correct.  The potential use of the corn produced for fuel could supply that much food.

As I mentioned previously, we are trying to imagine increasing by a factor of ten the portion of energy that is “renewable”. In the case of biofuels, to increase by ten times means that the United States alone would be burning enough food to feed over Five Billion People. That is more than two thirds of the Earth’s population. That is simply not acceptable.

You will note in Figure A that the majority of biomass contribution is not in transportation, but rather in Industry. The burning of agricultural and industrial waste for heat or to generate electricity is a good example. Imagine a sawmill that accumulates tons of sawdust. That waste represents a good deal of energy. You may note from Figure A that Industry is the most efficient of all energy using endeavors. They use biomass because it makes economic sense. I would imagine that most such opportunities are already in use. So, an increase by a factor of ten would seem impossible.

 Hydroelectricity

Hydroelectricity is quite efficient, clean and reliable. While it does require a specific sort of geological setting, it could probably be increased a great deal. A factor of ten might be possible, at least in theory. The problem with Hydro is that its Green “credentials” have expired. Greens are beginning to call for the removal of dams from rivers and are not enthusiastic about increasing hydropower. According to the Hydropower Reform Coalition (5):

“There is a place for new conventional hydropower development in our nation’s renewable energy policy, but such development should be limited to projects that use existing water and infrastructure and do not place additional stress on river ecosystems.”  

I can only imagine that they are expecting an improved efficiency from “existing water and infrastructure”. Without new infrastructure, there can be no other way to increase production. Figure E shows the Energy Information Agency (EIA) numbers for amount of hydropower in the US over the years 1990 to 2010. While other renewables have increased, Hydro is in a definite decline. Note that the increase of “other renewable” is about equal to the decline in Hydro. This is far from a candidate for a massive increase. We will be lucky to retain what Hydro now exists.

Hydrootherrenw

Figure E: EIA graph of hydropower and “other renewable” electricity amounts.

Wind

Wind turbines can generate substantial amounts of electricity when the wind conditions are right. Because of government subsidies, wind power has expanded rapidly. As of 2014 Wind represents 2% of the energy mix in the United States. There is room for expansion. However, as it turns out this is a much more complicated subject than the previous energy sources.

The cost of wind power has been claimed by Greens to be less than fossil fuel power plants. This claim is ignoring a multitude of hidden costs, including massive subsidies at taxpayer expense. According to Ed Hoskins’ detailed analysis (6), the cost of wind is at least double that of natural gas. The chart in figure F shows these figures and I have included the Solar photovoltaic numbers to refer back to when I get to that source.

Cost_Wind_Gas

Figure F: Comparison of cost per unit energy for Solar, Wind and Natural Gas electric generation

But the point here is not cost, but rather reliability. Wind turbines have a range of wind speeds. There is a lower limit of wind speed below which the turbine cannot generate power. There is also a high speed limit where the turbine must be “feathered” or turned sideways to the wind to avoid damage to the blades. When those periods occur, the electric demand must still be met and other sources must be called upon to provide the power. There are electric storage systems like flywheels that can store power and smooth fluctuations, but their capacity can be measured only in mere seconds. This means that a coal or natural gas fired power plant has to be kept idling, ready to pick up the entire load with a moment’s notice. Idling is a particularly wasteful thing to do as it burns energy for exactly nothing.

There is one argument to the effect that “It’s always windy somewhere”. By that they mean to say that one windfarm can take over for another. There are regional weather systems where stagnant (i.e., near windless) high pressure sets in across most of the country. This can be during a heat wave or a frigid cold wave where power consumption is already high. The fact that it is windy in Romania is irrelevant. There is no free lunch. Wind power must have a 100% back-up or leave its customers in the dark when the going gets tough.

Now we get to the carnage. These wind turbines are sited in zones of prevailing wind, which by no coincidence are the same zones where birds migrate. Windmills chop up birds at a horrifying rate. The Greens are trying to sandbag this by pointing out that cats kill far more birds than windmills. I expect they are exaggerating, but it does not matter. My cat, for example brought me a few mocking birds and, once a blue jay.  But he never dragged a Golden Eagle carcass up to my back door. Furthermore, nobody ever claimed that cats are “Green” as they have claimed about Wind for decades. Windmills do not discriminate and kill many thousands of birds of “endangered species” per year. Certainly they are endangered! Yet, Wind currently has a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” to do so for the next thirty years. They will not be fined.

Then there are the bats. For example, in Central Texas there are large populations of bats. Those flying rodents eat the insects that would otherwise eat our food (and Biomass!) crops. They are murdered by the thousands by the windmills there. You might think that their echo-locating senses would help them avoid the spinning blades. Well, they don’t even have to be struck by the blades. The low-pressure zones behind the blades collapse their lungs. Birds are much tougher, but they never see the blades coming, especially at night. The toll on bats is large – perhaps more than on birds.

While I would never be accused of being Green, I find the situation unacceptable and I object to these bird and bat choppers on environmental grounds. In my humble opinion, Wind ain’t Green. And Greens are starting to agree.   They forced a wind farm in California named Altamont tear down their windmills and replace them with larger ones that supposedly kill fewer. I suspect, but cannot prove that the larger mills just throw the dead birds farther away so they are out of sight and not counted as damage.

Solar

Solar energy is not a new idea. It has been exploited for longer than human history. I am sure that my Ice Age ancestors dried their meat with Solar. For local reference, my mother used Solar to dry our clothes when I was young. Later, I saw coffee farmers in Venezuela, who to this day use Solar to dry their beans. Solar is respected in architectural and industrial design. In remote locations photovoltaics if properly managed can provide electricity in medium amounts but not continuously.

There is nothing wrong with Solar until someone wants to make it a baseline electricity source. Now we are in trouble – and for obvious reasons! Beyond the totally obvious fact that the sun goes down at night, there are times when the weather will cover the sun and not provide power, neither for photovoltaic, nor for solar thermal plants. You might put these way out in the desert where there are few clouds, but then you must build the powerline infrastructure to get the power to someone who will pay for it. That is far from free.

Now is when I will ask you to look back at Figure F, at that Cyan bar that shows that “Photovoltaics Large Scale” is almost four times the cost of natural gas generation. Looking further than cost, there is reliability to be concerned. In the desert, there might not be much concern about sunlight, but even there, the sun goes down. Storage of electricity is to this day, quite difficult and inefficient. To put it like Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Car Talk) when they speak of electric cars, “It’s all about the batteries and it always will be”. You might imagine that Elon Musk will build all the batteries we need with his mega-plant. You would be wrong. There is a place called Cushing, Oklahoma where there is a great tank farm that is the core of the distribution center of petroleum for the central United States. The reserve of energy in Cushing is such that it would take FOURTY of Elon’s “Super Factories” ONE HUNDRED YEARS to match it in energy storage. Cushing is the largest tank farm in the country, but there are hundreds of others.

Geothermal

(Wikipedia (7)) Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. The geothermal energy of the Earth’s crust originates from the original formation of the planet and from radioactive decay of materials (in currently uncertain[1] but possibly roughly equal[2] proportions). The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface. The adjective geothermal originates from the Greek roots γη (ge), meaning earth, and θερμος (thermos), meaning hot…. …Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly,[8] but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries.

Geothermal energy also works well, in appropriate locations. This is another source that could be expanded and maximized. In the US, it contributes 0.2 Quads (far less than 1 %) of the national total. While this analysis is about the United States Energy sector, it is instructive to note other countries’ efforts in this regard. While the US capacity is small, it still represents 29% of the Geothermal in the world! No one else comes close. Figure G (again from Wikipedia) shows the amounts and contributions of geothermal generation of various countries. Of particular note are Iceland, which supplies 30% of their national energy use and also the Philippines with 27% and El Salvador with 25%. These countries have the advantage of local geology that make Geothermal a convenient and cheap source of energy. The US has many such zones that have already been developed to some extent and there should be reason to expect more.

The drawbacks? Well, the first thing they do in geothermal development is to drill holes in the ground and then fracture the rock structure so the water can circulate and pick up heat. While I have no problem with fracturing, an entire radical, hysterical contingent of Greens do have such problems! If they will allow fracturing for geothermal then they are colossal hypocrites.

Geothermal

Figure G: Geothermal generation of electricity by country (Wikipedia)

Conclusions

  • Biofuels right now consume enough food crops to feed over half a billion people. That is astonishing in itself. To multiply this burning of food by ten is nothing short of horrifying. This nation should stop the use of ethanol based fuel immediately, in my humble opinion.
  • Hydro is being assassinated by Greens and will be fortunate to not decrease. It could otherwise be increased substantially.
  • Wind is not a good idea for baseline power. Any increase will come at great cost and massive loss of avian life. And again, it must be backed up with Real Energy.
  • Solar has many of the same drawbacks as Wind. Even if it does increase by ten times, it would still represent only about 4% of the energy total and it still needs 100% back-up.
  • I see no reason why Geothermal could not increase by a factor of ten. That would make it about two percent of the energy mix.
  • While I have skipped over it because it is opposed so vehemently by Greens, Nuclear could take the majority of the energy burden. Don’t hold your breath!

Question: Can Fossil Fuels be replaced?

Short answer:   No!

References:

  1. Defining “Fossil Fuel” http://www.bing.com/search?q=define+fossil+fuel&qs=n&form=QBLH&pq=define+fossil+fuel&sc=9-18&sp=-1&sk=&cvid=D3703532B4D94B9F8098F2638D006AED
  2. Defining “Renewable Energy” http://energy.gov/science-innovation/energy-sources/renewable-energy
  3. Lawrence Livermore Energy Use Chart https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/assets/images/energy/us/Energy_US_2014.png
  4. D.K. Albino, K.Z. Bertrand, Y. Bar-Yam, Food for fuel: The price of ethanolarXiv:1210.6080(October 4, 2012). http://necsi.edu/research/social/foodprices/foodforfuel/ 
  5.  Hydropower reform Coalition hthttp://www.hydroreform.org/abouthydro/renewable
  6. Ed Hoskins WordPress.com site https://edmhdotme.wordpress.com/
  7. Geothermal energy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_energy