Thursday, January 22, 2009

EV's are still a fail tech

Tesla announced today that they are massively incompetent at business. It costs them almost $140k to build a vehicle they sell for $92k, netting them a loss of about $50k per vehicle sold.

GM by comparison now seems to be performing very well, since they only lose a few hundred dollars per vehicle sold. It should also be noted that GM probably uses something closer to true accounting rules, whereas the Tesla estimate is almost certainly based on fantasy. They probably take all of their business and engineering costs and spread them over many thousands of vehicles that they'll never actually sell because they're gonna go bankrupt first.

They attempt to put a happy face on things by suggesting that - out of thin air - they can cut their parts costs by about 50% without impacting the quality of the vehicle. Some would wonder why they wouldn't have already done so, if it is such an easy thing to do. Those towards the end of the production waiting list might reconsider whether they really want to pay full price for such a significantly economized vehicle.

Maybe they were too busy "innovating" (read: taping thousands of tiny batteries into giant bundles and breaking transmissions. that really is the extent of their innovation. they bought the motor, controller, charger wholesale from ac propulsion & the running gear from lotus) that they forgot to hire somebody who could take care of the basic stuff that Detroit has been doing for more than a hundred years.

I'd be willing to make an even odds bet that Tesla never finishes their initial production run of 300 roadsters, if anyone is interested. I'd take either side of the bet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

too many action movies

Maybe I'm the only one, but Obama seems too good to be true.

Unabashedly intelligent, optimistic, aware that other countries exist and their people matter, admits that killing terrorists just encourages them - it is hard to think of anything to object to.

I think he overstated the gravity of our current situation. Then again, maybe he was providing historical context to demonstrate how what we're going through isn't such a great big deal.

Given his popularity and desire to do things the way they ought to be done, he is putting himself out there as enemy #1 for anyone who is happy with the way things are.

Because of this, all through his speech this morning, I kept waiting for something truly awful to happen. Either to him specifically or to the whole city. Action movie kind of bad thing.

I guess the reality is that any horrible thing that anyone may try to do will most likely be done to undermine him and render him powerless, rather than remove him physically.

Nonetheless, I spent most of the speech distracted by thoughts of how a crowd that size could possibly be secure.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Officially official. Officially.

The state finally updated their records to show that I am, in fact, a fully licensed Professional Engineer. Now I just need to order my official Professional Engineer stamp, and cap and gown.

Well, the stamp, anyway. Most people I know don't use their cap and gown more than once or twice a year, so I may not bother.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Go massive on solar thermal?

The large-scale solar power option is to convert dilute solar power into concentrated heat energy then convert that into electricity to export to the populated parts of the country.

Some estimate that the US could meet 90% of electricity demand by tapping into the solar energy in the Southwest.

Question #1: what would the regional environmental impact be?

Such a process would take tens to hundreds of gigawatts of heat out of area, potentially altering regional weather patterns.

my guess: irrelevant. each project would be permitted individually. each would only have to prove that their incremental impact would be negligible, which they would be.

Question #2, #3, #4: if Africa weren't such a mess, how much energy could be exported from the Sahara region to Europe (where energy costs are flat out ludicrously high - $.30/kwh is not unusual)? How would that compare to the oil energy exports from the Middle East? Would the income from so much power be enough to give Europe the economic incentive to finally clean up the mess they made in Africa during their empire-building days?

my guesses: more than they could use, 5-10x more, i have no idea

Question #4: (and this is the most appealing one for me) is there an appropriate technology low tech, local material-based way to convert sunlight into electricity for the hot, sunny, and arid regions of the world?

Arid is the tough part. Water is the most common working fluid. Maybe if you did it closed cycle and assumed that dirty water was available and clean water was a desirable output you could come up with something that made a bit of electricity and a bunch of purified water.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Iran and oil prices

External estimates are that 80% of Iran's tax revenue is from oil sales, implying that creating a budget based on the prices expected this year will mean serious cuts to expenses or extreme violations of OPEC export-limiting agreements. Either that, or Iran had a huge budget surplus last year.

On the other hand, President Ahmadinejad says that Iran's economy is entirely independent from oil prices. So, that is an option, I guess. Considering that there isn't an economy in the world that actually is independent from oil prices, though, I find it hard to believe that a nation that relies on oil to pay for 80% of the government budget could possibly make such a claim with a straight face. In this case, I'll trust the external sources and assume that cheap oil means budget cuts in Iran.

It is an important question because budget cuts mean cuts to government services which means a frustrated population looking for a direction for their anger. In the US, Madoff and a few others will be publicly humiliated and imprisoned for life for their roles in the financial problems. In Iran, the government will continue directing the people's anger at the US and Israel. If things get extreme enough, Iran may be forced to start a shooting conflict to satisfy the bloodlust they incite.