You´d be hard put to find a better illustration of the old chestnut about the EMH economist whose friend tells him there´s a banknote lying in the road:
Can't be. If there was a bill on the ground, somebody would have already picked it up.
Where to begin? Most normal people would say: that´s another nail in the already well-sealed coffin of the EMH. But faced with indisputable facts about solar market prices and installation quantities, Cowen´s response is: where´s the solar boom or fossil bust in asset prices? He can´t see one, so the facts must be wrong, or more politely epiphenomenal noise. Note that the objection is not based on any falsifiable hypothesis about solar PV, such as: Germany will have to cancel its solar PV feed-in tariff as unaffordable, silicon feedstock supply will hit a new bottleneck like the one that kept prices from falling in 2004-2008, solar PV will turn out to cause cancer, impotence and obesity or at least will be thought to do so. (Now there´s a hot tip to the oil industry PR men: work up some scares.) For the record, while Germany did reduce its feed-in tariff, China has announced one.
You know, even after two years at Chicago, where like every professor tells you that same joke at least three times every semester, it never gets old, does it?
It's of course perfectly possible that markets are simply not recognizing the danger to fossil fuel stocks, and we are in for a very exciting disruption in the next ten years. (In which case, I am wrong about a carbon tax and other emissions controls; we should just wait eight years.)
On the other hand, it's also possible that people who trade those stocks for a living--some of whom may even be as smart as James Wimberly, have considered this possibility, and don't find it very likely. What might those reasons be?
1) Mindless trend extrapolation is hours of fun for the entire family, but it is incorrect at least as often as it is correct, and possibly more often.
Wimberly uses this graph:
And very possibly prices will keep falling, the way that microchips have. On the other hand, maybe they'll plateau. Wimberly points out that solar panels are fundamentally a manfuacturing business, not a resource business, which is certainly promising . . . but the prices of other manufactured goods that experienced steep declines did not necessarily keep plummeting to zero.
2) Solar panel costs are not the only cost of a solar installation. According to the Energy Bible (which comports roughly with other figures I've seen online), about half the cost, or a little more, of putting in solar panels comes from the cells. The rest comes from the other stuff you need: batteries, transformers, wiring, and labor. As far as I know, the cost of these things is not falling as fast as the cost of solar panels.
Assume that these costs have held relatively steady, with the labor component being the most unstable. Ten years ago, most of the cost of an installation would have been the solar panels. But as those prices decline, the installed cost (without tax incentives) will be increasingly dominated by labor and other materials. Assuming that that graph says what I think it does, that implies that even if cells become free, we'd plateau slightly north of the average electricity price.
3) There's a storage problem. Yes, intriguing things are being done with hot salt and so forth. But how attractive are the costs compared to home installations? What percentage of their total generation costs represent solar cells, versus labor and other things whose prices aren't falling so fast?
Putting the pieces together, our national battery occupies a volume of 4.4 billion cubic meters, equivalent to a cube 1.6 km (one mile) on a side. The size in itself is not a problem: we'd naturally break up the battery and distribute it around the country. This battery would demand 5 trillion kg (5 billion tons) of lead.
A USGS report from 2011 reports 80 million tons (Mt) of lead in known reserves worldwide, with 7 Mt in the U.S. A note in the report indicates that the recent demonstration of lead associated with zinc, silver, and copper deposits places the estimated (undiscovered) lead resources of the world at 1.5 billion tons. That's still not enough to build the battery for the U.S. alone. We could chose to be optimistic and assume that more lead will be identified over time. But let's not ignore completely the fact that at this moment in time time, no one can point to a map of the world and tell you where even 2% of the necessary lead would come from to build a lead-acid battery big enough for the U.S. And even the undiscovered, but suspected lead falls short.
What about cost? At today's price for lead, $2.50/kg, the national battery would cost $13 trillion in lead alone, and perhaps double this to fashion the raw materials into a battery (today's deep cycle batteries retail for four times the cost of the lead within them). But I guarantee that if we really want to use more lead than we presently estimate to exist in deposits, we're not dealing with today's prices. Leaving this caveat aside, the naïve $25 trillion price tag is more than the annual U.S. GDP. Recall that lead-acid is currently the cheapest battery technology. Even if we sacrificed 5% of our GDP to build this battery (would be viewed as a huge sacrifice; nearly a trillion bucks a year), the project would take decades to complete.
But even then, we aren't done: batteries are good for only so many cycles (roughly 1000, depending on depth of discharge), so the national battery would require a rotating service schedule to recycle each part once every 5 years or so. This servicing would be a massive, expensive, and never-ending undertaking.
Moreover, while some sort of battery-replacement would help deal with the base-load problem (solar and wind are more variable than conventional sources, which means they have limited applications), they don't fix the transportation problem. Batteries are heavy and expensive, and as I understand it, absent some fairly radical breakthrough, they won't work at all in aviation; the energy density isn't high enough to permit the plane to take off. They're better for autos, but people don't want the limited range those vehicles currently offer.
4) To really take the market by storm, solar (plus storage) doesn't need to beat the average cost of electricity; it needs to beat the individual cost of each fuel type. DOE seems to think that by 2016 solar is still going to be a lot more expensive per kilowatt hour than other sources:
It's a pretty long haul before they overtake new coal--much less already-existing coal plants, or advanced natural gas.
The most obvious use for solar is as a replacement for expensive peak-load natural gas power (as I understand it, air conditioning causes most of the demand for these plants, so solar would be a nice complement.) But unless it gets massive subsidies, solar (including any storage mechanism you come up with) is going to have to individually defeat each type of electricity plant on price and/or availability, not "the average retail price of electricity"--which already includes some expensive solar and wind power.
Maybe that's possible--though that would still leave transportation to worry about. But that graph doesn't show it.
I'd close by restating Tyler's question in a slightly different way: if the price of solar is really likely to keep falling until it's cheaper than coal, why don't we see this revealed in the behavior of global warming activists? Where are Greens saying "We've decided to move on to more pressing issues, because clearly, the carbon emissions problem is just about solved."
If solar panels really become cheap enough to replace most electric generation, that will be extraordinarily disruptive, in ways that will be both good and bad for the environment. But I'm not seeing a shift away from climate change in order to focus more on, say, sustainable water-use or species conservation. Everyone seems just as worried about climate change as they've ever been, even though such cheap solar panels would render the issue mostly moot.
Revealed preference and market prices certainly can't tell you everything about the future. But they can tell you a lot about what people believe about the future.
We built a fake web toaster, and it was compromised in an hour.
Last week, a massive chain of hacked computers simultaneously dropped what they were doing and blasted terabytes of junk data to a set of key servers, temporarily shutting down access to popular sites in the eastern U.S. and beyond. Unlike previous attacks, many of these compromised computers weren’t sitting on someone’s desk, or tucked away in a laptop case—they were instead the cheap processors soldered into web-connected devices, from security cameras to video recorders. A DVR could have helped bring down Twitter.
Great, I thought as I read the coverage last week. My DVR helped bring down Twitter. (Probably not, at least this time—the targeted products were older than what you’d find in most American homes, and less protected.) But the internet is huge! There are around a couple billion public IPv4 addresses out there; any one of those might have a server, a desktop computer, or a toaster plugged in at the other end. Even if the manufacturer of my gadget gave it a dumb and easily guessed password, wouldn’t it be safe in this sea of anonymity? How would the hackers find me?
This week highlighted all the ways in which it’s likely to follow Clinton—all the way back to Washington.
Amid a fired up sea of supporters chanting “Lock her up!” with renewed vigor, a freshly emboldened Donald Trump took to the campaign stump on Friday afternoon in New Hampshire, moments after the FBI announced it was reviewing new emails related to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. “This is worse than Watergate!” he bellowed. The crowd was in agreement.
James Comey announced in July “that no charges are appropriate in this case,” and there’s no reason, at this point, to believe that the new emails will alter that conclusion. But the toll this takes—and will continue to take—on Clinton’s ability to secure public trust is not to be discounted. Should she win the presidency on November 8th, (as polls suggest she will), the controversy is likely to follow her to the White House: This latest review may take time to complete, and this isn’t a cudgel Republicans are likely to give up anytime soon. After all, their entire strategy has been to erode trust: in public institutions and, lately, in elections. The president herself will be no different.
Just why was Tom Hanks dancing in a black-and-orange suit on Saturday Night Live so funny?
This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live offered a mini masterpiece: a gloriously silly Halloween-themed piece revolving around a “Haunted Elevator” ride and its unusual star attraction. Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon played a couple looking for spooky thrills who instead found something far more bewildering: a pumpkin-suited man who would randomly appear alongside two cheerful skeletons and perform a dance routine. “Who are you?” asked a frustrated Bennett after the man (played by Tom Hanks) appeared for the second time. “I’m David Pumpkins!” came the reply.
McKinnon followed up: “Yeah, and David Pumpkins is … ?”
The agency is investigating more emails related to Hillary Clinton. Whether or not it finds something in the next 11 days, its announcement could affect the outcome on November 8.
The FBI has announced that it is investigating newly discovered messages related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. According to The New York Times, these emails were found in the course of the agency’s investigation of the former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and the longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
With just 11 days to go until November 8, FBI Director James Comey’s decision to disclose the investigation could affect the election. The timing raises two important questions: What was his legal obligation to provide the public with information on this investigation, if any, and what could happen to him as a result of his choice?
It’s possible Comey was partly motivated by fear. When he chose not to prosecute Clinton for her use of a private email server, he was brought before Congress to defend his decision; a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee in September lasted nearly four hours. If he failed to amend his testimony and inform Congress about new evidence potentially relevant to that case, he would almost certainly face more hearings—particularly if the agency discovered information about Clinton’s actions after November 8. “I have a suspicion that he didn’t just do it because he felt like doing it,” said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as the chief ethics lawyer in the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007. “This close to the election, you have to get out with it. How many of these dang things are there?”
This is an item I wrote last night but was too busy to look over and check this morning, so I didn’t post it. Then I was in meetings all day. I’m posting it now with a new opening paragraph in the wake of today’s announcement from FBI director James Comey about “re-opening” the email investigation into Hillary Clinton. Otherwise I think the main point still stands.
New intro: Are these extra emails that James Comey has found, however many they are, likely to contain a criminal or national-security bombshell that was not present in the thousands of other emails the FBI has already reviewed? Anything is possible, but my guess is no. Is this announcement, which is so certain to roil the news through this weekend, likely to change the fundamentals in the election and give Trump the edge? Again, anything could happen, but again my guess is no.
Start-ups are proving more efficient than government in areas like transportation. Should some services be privatized?
Cities such as New York and San Francisco have extensive public-transportation systems that carry millions of residents by bus, train, boat, and light rail. But in recent years, there’s been an expanding fleet of private vehicles too: Lyft, Uber, Juno, Uber Pool, and the Google Bus, to name a few. These offerings give commuters more choices, but may also undermine the public services available. They raise fundamental questions about the future of how people will get around cities.
I used to think these services were just for the rich—a friend of mine who lived in New York insisted on taking an Uber Pool to work every day because he said it was a much better experience than public transit. But as the options increase, they carry an expanding array of people. This morning, for instance, I walked one block from my house to take a private van service called Chariot to my office in San Francisco. Before Chariot, this commute took at least 40 minutes and consisted of riding a bus to the subway to another bus. Chariot—a shared van service run by a private company—brought me directly from my house to my office in just over 20 minutes. And it cost roughly the same price as the lengthier public transit option.
Inferno is only the latest Hollywood product to insist that its lady-stars galavant around in infernal footwear.
There are several scenes, in the new movie Inferno, in which Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones)—Robert Langdon’s latestlady-sidekick—runs around Florence in a pair of wedges. Not full-on stilettos, to be clear, like the ones in which Jones’s co-star, Sidse Babett Knudsen, will be forced to sprint later in the movie, but wedges that are, in Sienna’s case, multiple inches high, and made of patent leather.
It happens like this: Sienna begins Inferno as Langdon’s nurse, and the opening scenes find the pair suddenly fighting for their lives against baddies who have infiltrated the hospital where Langdon is recovering from a gunshot wound that was inflicted, ostensibly, by those same murdery baddies. The pair, having barely escaped the hospital, go back to her apartment to regroup. She changes from her scrubs into civilian clothes. At which point—knowing that her day from there will prooooobably involve more murdery-baddie-evading, and knowing as well that such evading often involves running—Sienna Brooks scans the contents of her wardrobe and decides, for reasons that are best left to the Illuminati and/or Dan Brown himself, to don not just a shirt of white silk, but also … those intensely impractical shoes.
The FBI has announced that it is reviewing new emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system, after the messages turned up in an unrelated inquiry.
Here’s that October surprise. The FBI will investigate newly revealed emails from Hillary Clinton related to her use of a private email server and address while secretary of state, Director James Comey informed the chairs of relevant congressional committees on Friday.
In a letter, Comey wrote, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the case.” He wrote that he had learned of the emails on Thursday and felt that the FBI should look into the new emails. But Comey added that the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take for us to complete this additional work.”
What is lost when disadvantaged students are forced to commodify their backgrounds for the sake of college admissions?
Shortly after moving to New York two years ago, I began volunteering as a writing mentor at Minds Matter, a large, multi-city nonprofit that helps prepare underserved high-school students for college. Just a few months earlier, I’d graduated from a liberal-arts college I’d attended after participating in a similar program, and I felt both obliged to pay my good fortune forward and uniquely qualified to do so. If my experience had taught me anything, it was the power of a compelling personal narrative.
By the time I’d decided, mid-way through high school, that I wanted to attend college—and not just any college, but a competitive one, filled with Gothic Revival buildings and storied histories—I had to contend with a spotty transcript, virtually no extracurriculars, and an SAT math score inferior to that of many middle schoolers. Then I heard about QuestBridge, a nonprofit that connects low-income youth with top schools.
Vehement Trump supporters abound on Twitter. That much is obvious to anyone who has used the service. Who exactly they are, and how broad a swath of society they represent, has been harder to pin down.
Are they largely Russian bots, as some reports have suggested? Are the angriest ones really just a handful of activists, racists, and anti-Semites, who through nonstop posting in multiple accounts exaggerate their true numbers? (Though even a very few would be enough.) Are they in any kind of coordinated activity, or mainly working as loners?
A social-media analytics firm called Demographics Pro has released an analysis of 10,000 Trump supporters who are active on Twitter, and 10,000 Hillary Clinton supporters. It then matched those accounts with a list of 10 active, major white-nationalist Twitter accounts. (The company describes the way in which it chose and classified such sites here.)