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Saturday, April 21, 2018

On Midrats 22 April 2018- Episode 433: Reform, Readiness and the Navy's Path Ahead, with Dr. James Holmes

Please join us at 5pm EDT on 22 April 2018 for Midrats Episode 433: Reform, Readiness and the Navy's Path Ahead, with Dr. James Holmes
How is our Navy making progress in adjusting how we man, train, and operate our forces following the series of lessons identified in the
wake of 2017's series of mishaps that left ships damaged, reputations destroyed, and 17 Sailors dead?

For the full hour to discuss where we are and the way forward will be returning guest Dr. James Holmes. We will use his recent comments from Asia Times and The National Interest as starting points for a broad ranging conversation.

Dr. Holmes is a professor of strategy and former visiting professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, where he is the inaugural holder of the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer and combat veteran of the first Gulf War, he served as a weapons and engineering officer in the battleship Wisconsin, engineering and firefighting instructor at the Surface Warfare Officers School Command, and military professor of strategy at the Naval War College. He was the last gunnery officer to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger.

The book he co-authored with Toshi Yoshihara, Red Star over the Pacific, is out in its second edition this fall.
Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also pick the show up later by visiting either our iTunes page or our Stitcher page.

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: You Are There "Lexington, Concord, and Merriam's Corner" (1948)

April 19, 1775.

The Royal government marches to seize weapons from the colonists.

The "Minute Men" respond:
On a stretch of country road from Boston to Concord, a prolonged skirmish between about 3,500 colonial militiamen and 1,700 British soldiers opened the American Revolution. The initial fighting in the war was a local action between Britain and her rebellious colony of Massachusetts. The government had clamped down in reaction to the colony’s resistance to British economic policies.

For a year, the British army, under Gen. Thomas Gage, had occupied Boston. Pressed by the ministry in London to quell rebellion by arresting Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Gage chose instead to take away the patriots’ arms supply in Concord. But incompetence and miscalculation doomed what he meant to be a limited, routine operation. Gage depended on secrecy to seize the arms before the people of Concord could resist, but Boston knew of the operation before his troops left, and the arms at Concord were soon hidden. Couriers Paul Revere and William Dawes notified Adams and Hancock in Lexington that the British were on their way. Mix-ups delayed the British departure for hours, giving the colonists more time to prepare.
You know, history.

Here is the start of the American revolution as it could have been reported by modern (well, 1948 modern) technology:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

California's Power Problem, Paid for by the Rest of Us

So, there's some sort of "movement" afoot by some gaggle of Californians to secede from the rest of us not living in paradise. While this movement is largely political, it does raise some interesting questions about how the departed will deal some pressing issues, one of which is where it will get its power to run its cool high speed rail, not to mention businesses and homes and industries.

As noted in this Forbes piece from 2016,California's Growing Imported Electricity Problem
California now imports 33% of its electricity supply from fast growing neighbors, with about 65% of that coming from the Southwest and 35% coming from the Northwest. These numbers increase most in summer months when air conditioning loads peak. Imports have been rising rapidly: in 2010, California "only" imported 25% of its power.

Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California imports because "its wholesale power markets in the region are relatively open and generation from outside the state is often less expensive." In fact, California imports about 6% of its electricity from out-of-state coal-fired power plants, with another 14% coming from "unspecified imports," of a cloudy origin that is generally attributed to hydropower, gas, nuclear, and other renewables.
Well, now. California has shifted (at the cost to its citizens in high energy prices) some of the cost of energy production (pollution, etc) to other states. Again from the Forbes piece:
And as seen with the 2015 drought, where low water levels had hydro dams producing 80% less power than normal, future generation and imports of hydropower will be restricted by climate change worsening drought. This is very bad news for California's already precarious power market: hydropower plays a "very important role in maintaining system reliability, because of the flexibility it provides system operators."

It's crucial to remember that drought and less hydropower available in the Northwest was a determining factor in California's "2000-2001 Power Crisis" that cost the state $50 billion in added energy costs, illustrating the problems of California's over-reliance on outside energy (California also unsustainably imports over 90% of its natural gas, the nation's fastest growing major fuel, and the source that other states will increasingly lean upon most to meet the Clean Power Plan).

At the time, neighboring governors rightly complained about California's unwillingness to build new generation capacity in the 1990s even though its demand was rising (proof here).

Further, EPA's new plan could force many of those coal plants that California imports from to shut down, leaving the state even more vulnerable to brownouts and blackouts (concerns continue to be raised nationally about policies that are lowering the reliability of our power grid: Eaton reports that blackouts already cost the U.S. about $150 billion a year).
Why the highlight on the "natural gas" section above? Take a look at this chart from here:
That same source notes,
California’s single remaining operational nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon Power Plant, accounts for less than one-tenth of total generation. California used to have multiple other nuclear power plants, including the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the Vallecitos Nuclear Center,[15] and the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant,[16] in addition to various other smaller experimental or prototype reactors which intermittently supplied power to the grid, such as the Sodium Reactor Experiment. However all of these reactors have been shut down due to both economic[17] and social[18] factors. Currently, the owner of the Diablo Canyon plant, Pacific Gas & Electric, has plans to shut down the two reactors at the site in 2025.[19] This lost generation will be made up with renewables.
Well, renewables better work hard. The Forbes piece notes that at least one major solar project is not exactly 100% pure:
This dominance of natural gas in California is "bordering on the absurd." Just look at California's troubled Ivanpah solar thermal plant near Nevada, being "paid four to five times as much per megawatt-hour as natural-gas powered plants." But, very quietly, Ivanpah has become a big natural gas plant.

That's because Ivanpah uses gas to preheat water that goes into boilers mounted on three 459-foot-tall towers, allowing "heat from the sun – captured by 352,000 mirrors – to make steam more quickly. The steam turns the turbines that produce electricity."

In 2014, enough natural gas was used at Ivanpah to meet the annual power needs of 17,000 California homes, or over 25% of the plant's total projected electricity output. Thus, Ivanpah is a hybrid gas and solar power plant,...
More to the point, the rest of the country is subsidizing this "hybrid" plant
Although owned by Google, NRG Energy, and Brightsource, who have a market cap over $500 billion, "The U.S. Department of Energy granted Ivanpah $1.6 billion in loan guarantees. As a green-energy project, it also qualified for more than $600 million in federal tax credits." Production is often 30-35% below expectations, a lack of generation that has increased the calls for Ivanpah to shutdown.
Ah, who pays for those loan guarantees and federal tax credits? The American taxpayer, most of whom do not live in California.

A long time ago I took an economics course which used as a text a book, Tanstaafl (There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch) - A Libertarian Perspective on Environmental Policy (and, yes, the concept is from Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress)- about which Amazon's blurb says,
In its most basic application, the TANSTAAFL principle is a simple statement of reality: everything of value has a cost. The TANSTAAFL principle can also be interpreted as a mandate for a policy of full-cost pricing. In a world where resources are scarce, everything has a cost. Scarce resources are used most efficiently when the price paid by the final user reflects all costs, including waste disposal, harm from pollution, and depletion of non-renewable resources.
Now, Californians already pay the highest energy prices in the country, but I am not sure they paying "full cost" pricing - instead, they seem to have shifted some large part of that burden to the rest of us. But should the element seeking secession prevail, the cost of independence might prove much higher than expected.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Breaking Chinese Blackmail Chips : "Japan team maps 'semi-infinite' trove of rare earth elements" and the world is better off

Reported by the Japan Times , a very big story for the future of technology - Japan team maps 'semi-infinite' trove of rare earth elements
Japanese researchers have mapped vast reserves of rare earth elements in deep-sea mud, enough to feed global demand on a “semi-infinite basis,” according to a new study.

The deposit, found within Japan’s exclusive economic zone waters, contains more than 16 million tons of the elements needed to build high-tech products ranging from mobile phones to electric vehicles, according to the study, released Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The team, comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions,
U.S. Navy photo
surveyed the western Pacific Ocean near Minamitori Island.

In a sample area of the mineral-rich region, the team’s survey estimated 1.2 million tons of “rare earth oxide” is deposited there, said the study, conducted jointly by Waseda University’s Yutaro Takaya and the University of Tokyo’s Yasuhiro Kato, among others.

The finding extrapolates that a 2,500-sq. km region off the southern Japanese island should contain 16 million tons of the valuable elements, and “has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world,” the study said.

The area reserves offer “great potential as ore deposits for some of the most critically important elements in modern society,” it said.

This discovery seems to free Japan and other countries from being blackmailed by China, which has, it is alleged, threatened to or actually cut off the export of rare earth elements to countries in order to force them to alter policies or engage in Chinese approved actions. Here's a report from 2010:
Beijing denied reports it had prevented shipments of the rare minerals that many of Japan's top exporters, such as the world's biggest automaker Toyota, rely on to make cutting-edge products ranging from car batteries to computers.

But traders in Tokyo said China had blocked exports to Japan of key minerals by slowing down administrative procedures in ports in Shanghai and Guangzhou to prevent materials being loaded on ships.

"We heard from our officials in China that the shipping of rare earths (to Japan) was suspended on September 21," a spokesman for Japanese trading house Sojitz in Tokyo told AFP.

Japan on Friday said it would release a Chinese fishing boat captain arrested earlier this month after a collision between his trawler and two Japanese coastguard vessels in a disputed area of the East China Sea.
In addition, China has "adjusted" export quotas on occasion - thus increasing the price of these elements, as reported by the Wall Street Journal in China Cuts Export Quota on Rare-Earth Metals (also in 2010):
China cut its quotas on first-half exports of rare-earth metals around 35%, a move likely to feed trade tensions and concerns among global buyers after an even deeper cut late this year.

China supplies around 95% of the world's rare-earth metals, which are used in high-tech batteries, television sets, mobile phones and defense products. Beijing's decision to cut export quotas by 72% for this year's second half sparked criticism that China was taking undue advantage of its position to raise prices.
China's export quotas are stoking trade tensions less than a month before Chinese President Hu Jintao visits with U.S. President Barack Obama. "We are very concerned about China's export restraints on rare-earth materials," a spokeswoman from the U.S. Trade Representative's office said Tuesday. "We have raised our concerns with China and we are continuing to work closely on the issue."

In trade talks this month, U.S. trade officials were unable to persuade China to ease restrictions on rare-earth metals, according to a USTR report to Congress released last week. The report said the U.S. will continue to press Beijing on the issue and would consider bringing the matter to the World Trade Organization.
Some 2013 analysis from Amy King and Shiro Armstrong here:
China has managed to dominate the global rare earth metal market because it can produce rare earths at low cost due to distorted factor markets that suppress prices. In the case of rare earths, cheap land, energy and labour (unregulated against workplace dangers) minimise costs, and severe environmental damage are not factored into the cost of production. Chinese policy-makers have been risking WTO action by gradually reducing the production of rare earth metals instead of addressing the underlying failures in labour and environmental standards. In August 2010, at a meeting with Japanese business leaders at a Japan-China economic forum, Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming cited Chinese concerns about environmental protection and national security as the reason for this decision.

China now has to demonstrate to the WTO that the restrictions on production and exports were in fact directed at cleaning up the industry and addressing its serious environmental impact, not some misguided attempt to restrict global supply.
Given what we know of China's level of concern over enviornmental matters, I would think such proof might prove hard to come by. Further, it is difficult to say it is a "misguided attempt to restrict glogal supply" when such a level of control comports very well with the types of power levers China's leadership loves to pull and their general "bully boy" approach to things. Reminds on of OPEC in the days before the U.S. fracking business broke their oil supply scam.

Thus the Japanese discovery seems to break the risk of that blackmail and breaks that lever. Nice!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: The Fat Man "Murder Plays the Horses"

About The Fat Man:
The Fat Man, a popular radio show during the 1940s and early 1950s
was a detective drama created by (or at least credited to) Dashiell Hammett. It starred J. Scott Smart in the title role, as a detective who started out anonymous but rapidly acquired the name 'Brad Runyon'.