Chronicles of Ineptitude, Chapter 1

I’m starting to think Power Line needs a periodic omnibus “Chronicles of Ineptitude” to go along with the weekly Green Weenie Award, as there are so many stay stories of foolishness and failure that don’t quite deserve a singular post, but can add up to a worthwhile short roundup now and then.  If it becomes a regular feature, perhaps I’ll call it the Power Line Todd Akin Memorial Ineptitude Award.   (Not to worry–there’ll be a whole separate thread just for California.)

Sun setting on Mexican oil?

First off, oil.  As everyone paying attention knows, oil production is soaring in the U.S., Brazil, and other places where new technology is revitalizing old fields and making previous difficult fields economically feasible.  Everywhere, that is, except Mexico, where oil production continues to slide despite huge reserves.  At current rates of decline, Mexico may have to import oil by the year 2020, which would be like Thailand having to import rice.  The problem is underinvestment, and the refusal of Mexico’s government-owned oil industry (PEMEX) to allow foreign oil companies to enter the market in joint ventures.  Oil industry experts have been watching the Mexican foolishness for many years; as one industry watcher put it to me about five year ago, “Someday, when they pump the last barrel out, someone at PEMEX will pull out an old phonograph, and spin up a scratchy LP of Sinatra singing, ‘I Did It My Way!’”

But this has consequences as Mexico is one of the largest foreign suppliers of oil to the U.S., and if they lived up to their potential, could be an important part of making North America the world’s new hydrocarbon energy center.  Maybe when the government revenues from oil dry up enough they’ll change their mind.

Second, electric cars.  More epic fail.  Another ironically named Fisker Karma has caught fire, leading to the third recall of the vehicles.  Maybe electric cars will work adequately some day, and the Fisker Karma (retail cost: $102,000) will be remembered as the Ford Pinto of the new generation of electrics.  Now that would be karma.

Finally (for now), our friends in Germany, who are seeing coal consumption go up because of their precipitous decision to shut down nuclear power, are facing more problems from wind power.  Seems that the intermittency of wind power—not exactly an unknown problem—is causing instability in the electric grid, and some key German industrial companies are screaming about the economic cost and threatening to relocate out of the country.  (Where? Greece??)  Der Spiegel reports:

The problem is that wind and solar farms just don’t deliver the same amount of continuous electricity compared with nuclear and gas-fired power plants. To match traditional energy sources, grid operators must be able to exactly predict how strong the wind will blow or the sun will shine.

But such an exact prediction is difficult. Even when grid operators are off by just a few percentage points, voltage in the grid slackens. That has no affect on normal household appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and coffee machines. But for high-performance computers, for example, outages lasting even just a millisecond can quickly trigger system failures.

A survey of members of the Association of German Industrial Energy Companies (VIK) revealed that the number of short interruptions to the German electricity grid has grown by 29 percent in the past three years. Over the same time period, the number of service failures has grown 31 percent, and almost half of those failures have led to production stoppages. Damages have ranged between €10,000 and hundreds of thousands of euros, according to company information.

Thank goodness dolphins are holding up the latest expansion of German wind power, as noted here yesterday.  More to the point, could grid instability be coming soon to the U.S.?