This is how Big Oil will die

It’s 2025, and 800,000 tons of used high strength steel is coming up for auction.

The steel made up the Keystone XL pipeline, finally completed in 2019, two years after the project launched with great fanfare after approval by the Trump administration.  The pipeline was built at a cost of about $7 billion, bringing oil from the Canadian tar sands to the US, with a pit stop in the town of Baker, Montana, to pick up US crude from the Bakken formation.  At its peak, it carried over 500,000 barrels a day for processing at refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

But in 2025, no one wants the oil. Continue reading

Experts have massively underestimated solar. Why? (Solar: Part 1)

This is part 1 of a three part series.  Look here for Part 2 and Part 3.

Last year the joists undergirding our carbon-fueled energy system shuddered and flexed.  But in the US, barely anyone noticed.

From Forbes:

The latest battering to coal’s standing came when Dubai announced June 27 that it would build a massive 800-megawatt solar plant that will produce electricity at an average cost of 2.99 cents a kilowatt hour, substantially below what even coal-fired power plants charge.

The price of 2.99 ¢/kWh was 30% cheaper than coal.  It was half the price of a solar bid in Dubai just 18 months earlier.  It was without subsidies.

And it’s not a fluke. Continue reading

The world at a tipping point (Solar: Part 3)

This is part 3 of a three part series.  See here for part 1 and part 2.

Looking for belief in the history of technology development is like looking for the seat of consciousness in the brain.  We can take the brain apart, neuron by neuron, and ask what each cell does.  But nowhere in the system do we get a sense of how they work together; of what makes this warm, pink jelly a soul.

Similarly, the industrial and logistics improvements that make a technology cheaper seem dry, deterministic, and inevitable.  But none of them had to happen today.  It is speed, not engineering alone, that wins markets.  It is speed that transforms civilization.

And when customers and suppliers move in rhythm, it’s astonishing how quickly a technology can grow. Continue reading

Life on Mars, and other scientific fables

Most scientific papers are bullcrap.

This started as a post to complain, because I lost several hours of my life researching the sleep hormone melatonin for a blog post before deciding that I couldn’t trust anything that I read.

But the post got bigger and more uncomfortable, because science has gotten political. You are either pro-science or anti-science, and there isn’t much market for being a nuanced critic of any field, least of all a critic of science as a whole.

But screw it.  I read scientific research for my work, and scan through dozens of papers for each entry in this blog.  And people who read what I write care about science, and are (hopefully) adult enough to grapple with the truth that:

  1. Most scientific papers are wrong
  2. It’s possible for entire fields of science to run off the rails in major ways, for decades at a time

This sounds depressing.  I roll my eyes *a lot*. But there is hope. Continue reading

I learned: The earth is a giant battery, and it powers life

Twenty meters beneath the frosty surface of Antarctica lies Lake Vida, a thin pool of salty slush that, against all expectations, teems with life.

The presence of life under such extreme conditions is an assemblage of amazings. The temperature of the pool is -13°C.  The water is 19% salt, over five times the concentration of the ocean.

And most incredibly, an ice cap has sealed off the lake from the rest of the earth’s ecosystem for almost 3000 years.  All light is blocked by 20 meters of dirty snow.  Organic matter – otherwise known as “food” – can neither enter nor leave.

Without food or energy, how do its resident microbes survive? Continue reading