Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Marginal Cost of Electricity

There has been, of course a lot of Clacking and Jacobsoning about and there are also long running issues about whether nuclear energy is needed or not.  Willard has pretty well disposed of the Breakdown nuclear guys, but they do have something of a point, which perhaps Eli can illuminate with a little model.  FWIW the discussions about fossil fuels, wind, solar and hydro and nuclear often come down to the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), which basically is what a watt or a megwatt or whateverwatt costs, and on that basis today, wind is the cheapest.

But that does not capture the complete picture because of intermittency, not that nuclear and coal plant don't go off line now and again, so Eli would suggest a second metric, the marginal cost of electricity.  As Enron taught California in the early part of the century, the marginal cost can be a lot higher than the levelized cost, which really is the cost of the first watt.

So here is a simple model.  Start with the maximum possible supply, call it M, then see what happens if the % useage is u.  To keep this simple let the MCE = 1/(M-u) which is not unreasonable.  If M=u you have a short in the market and the price zooms.  Looking at three case M = 150%, 125% and 100% you get a useful model

A bunny could do even more useful things with this model by increasing the cost as a function of maximum power for any sort of mix you want.  You can diddle with scaling, etc but the take home is that as long as costs scale linearly with capacity you don't want to skate close to the edge.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

"Believe the women" and Bayesian Priors

This is where I'll likely get schooled by someone who truly understands Bayesian stats, unlike my lawyer understanding, and that's okay. I think a statistical framework to the debate of "who do you believe" would be a useful contribution.

The prevailing feminist position is to believe the women when they accuse men of sexual harassment or assault. The reason for this position depends on the individual feminist but for many is derived from feminist ideology that not everyone else shares. When a non-feminist sees this and thinks why should I simply believe the woman instead of the man, and sees a reasoning based on ideology of female oppression the person doesn't agree with, then the non-feminist dismisses the argument as non-scientific (add a varying mix of bias to this as well). That's where you get the silly, anti-"Believe all women" backlash that the NYTimes enabled.

"'Believe All Women' Isn't a Thing" says Katie McDonough, and she has a point. I'd like to see any link to any feminist actually saying believe all women in spite of contrary evidence. (There's one exception where many feminists come close to saying that - in one-on-one conversation with women or girls that come to a friend or especially a counselor with an accusation of harassment or assault. It's appropriate in that case to not be impartial or fair because your role is to help her, so an almost-but-not-quite immovable belief in what she says is fine.*)

So what about the rest of us, considering the issue of who to believe as a general concept or a particular allegation you hear about? If we accept that we live in a world of probabilities and incomplete information rather than certainty, then we have options. Some non-feminists say why should we believe the woman rather than the man when we don't know either of them? The answer would be that we do have information in the media about not-powerful women accusing powerful men of harassment and assault, and it seems in the vast majority of cases they are telling the truth.

So that's your prior - believe the woman. More information can adjust your assessment of that particular allegation, or I suppose more information in general can adjust your prior. What seems to be happening now with the flood we're seeing is the prior is getting strengthened.

*Importing this attitude from college crisis counseling centers to college disciplinary proceedings is a huge mistake, however, and people are now realizing this. I'll stand up for lawyers, including feminist lawyers, for pushing on the issue of appropriate process.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Republican tax travesty does limited damage to renewables but more of a problem for EVs

Just one small example of what an undemocratic, corporate lobbyist semi-controlled (i.e. not even the lobbyists really know what's happening) clusterfreak the Senate tax bill is that it's not clear whether it removed the $7,500 tax credit for EVs so that billionaires wouldn't have to pay estate taxes on their "family farms". The Republicans took the worst that the Democrats did in terms of violating procedural norms and then cranked it up to 11, for the worst possible motives and outcomes.

Regarding the revocation of the EV tax credit, the revocation was in the House version, also in the original Senate version, then removed, then added back, and now it's not clear. There's a similar attack on tax benefits for renewable power. No reductions of tax benefits for fossil fuels, of course, let alone consideration of the subsidy fossil fuels get to pollute the air and cause climate change.

Regarding the effect on renewable power, the process for solar and wind becoming cheaper than fossil fuels is so far along that the Republicans can't stop it. EVs are another story - they'll still triumph eventually, but the market is in its infancy yet and crippling the American EV market would really slow things down. California and other blue states will do their best in response, but we need non-idiotic federal policies.

Might seem worthless to point this out now, but here's a quote for Republican Senator Jeff Flake's book, Conscience of a Conservative:

What happens if there is a tax bill which isn't getting any Democratic support, will we stand up and say no, we've got to be bipartisan, we've got to work for it and pick up the necessary votes? Or will we scrap the rules? I will not support any such effort to harm the Senate. It is a line I cannot cross.

Maybe this tax bill can still be stopped, and it could use Senator Flake's help.

As for the broader economic issue of whether tax cuts for the rich make everyone better off, try the lesson from Kansas.

UDATE:  just an interesting related discussion on how fast EVs will take over the market. The anti-EV guy seems to feel incentives and subsidies are somehow unfair and don't count, ignoring how they affect everything besides EVs. I'm sure he would've said the same thing about replacing leaded gas back in the 1970s. His concession that autonomous vehicles change the game is interesting though. I'm presuming the reason is that you maximize usage for autonomous fleets, and the ops and maintenance costs of EVs win out then.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

US Universities Might As Well Close Now

American universities have had a good run since 1945 powered by state and federal government support as well as donations from alumni, foundations and nice folk.  In rankings US research universities occupy the first four places and 13 of the first 25.  The decrease in state funding is already hammering state schools such as the University of Wisconsin, etc.

The US Congress has applied the killer blow.  By proposing to tax tuition remission, the House of Representatives has essentially made attending graduate school a Darwin test.  Eli's friend Andy Dessler has an op ed in the San Antonia Express-News which looks at what would happen if this bill passed.

This would be a terrible policy because it would hurt one of America’s most prized and valuable possessions: excellence in advanced university research. Graduate students form the backbone of research done at universities in the U.S. When professors proudly talk about the amazing work their lab is performing, the odds are that the critical contributions were made by an army of smart, hardworking grad students.
Andy points out the many benefits to the nation of this research, and why passing this tax would be a disaster. 
Our research universities are the envy of the world. Because U.S. research is so good, students come to us from all over the world. And the U.S. benefits from this because the smartest of these people often stay here after they graduate, adding to our professional research workforce.
Sadly, that horse is already out of the barn. Even if the tuition tax is not in the final bill, international students are already forgetting US universities as places to apply to because completing their degrees with Republicans in power, and even if they are defeated is a chancy game to play with your life.

Companies that provide a tuition benefit to their employees, can rip that sucker up since the benefit might come with a tax liability.  US student contemplating graduate school or taking a job now have a simple answer, take the job, who knows if they will be able to complete the degree. 

But it gets worse, STE grad students mostly have research assistantships.  Humanities, social science and math grad students have teaching assistantships which also have tuition remission.  Who is going to take a chance on starting a degree program with the tuition tax lurking?  And without them who is going to teach the myriad sections of English and Math as well as the Chem and Physics Labs.  Undergrad instruction is going to go full sage on the stage MOOCish.

Still, there is something interesting in the proposals from the Goth-Republican caucus, a tax on university endowments for the Harvard Yales.  Now this is really a dumb idea, but it does set the stage for a wealth tax when reality set in (usual if ever clause inserted here)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Biodiversity versus evangelical anti-environmentalism

Given that yesterday's holiday in the US was a spiritual time for many, I'm returning to Creation Care among the Christian right.

We'll need some serious ideological ferment to get to realism on climate change among evangelicals beyond the minority who currently acknowledge the science.* Not impossible - we see how evangelicals and many conservatives broke out of the "tough on crime" position that they were locked into 20 years ago, but still very difficult.

Dominion theology, with its argument that God placed the earth under the "dominion" of humanity as a justification to exploit the earth, is a clear setback. A good example of this nonsense is the Cornwall Alliance, shouting "dominion" at every opportunity as a reason to exploit natural resources. While there might be some sincerity by some few at Cornwall, there's no reason to trust them or their dark money funders.

And yet even these people can't completely deny environmental reality. I think I think the best shot on environmental issues with evangelicals isn't climate change, it's with biodiversity and species extinction. Even Cornwall has to say, after making up a bunch of nonsense about the slow pace of extinctions, that "None of this means that there are not particular species that are, in fact, endangered and that can benefit from careful conservation efforts." Among evangelicals that are less financially motivated for disingenuity than Cornwall, I think the argument could translate into real environmental protections.

One of the strangest places to see environmental issues handled in a nuanced way is the Creationist site, Answers In Genesis. They easily dismiss the idea that dominion is a blank check to destroy. They quote Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" together with the standard verse on dominion at Genesis 1:28, "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Dominion is stewardship with responsibilities over something that belongs to God, not authorization to destroy it. Evangelicals who believe this might have trouble with permanently destroying biodiversity.

If I were a rich environmentalist, this is an area where I'd spend some money developing the activists and message, in addition to the very active environmental movement among religious groups outside of the evangelical community.

*Important to acknowledge not all evangelicals are conservatives, and the climate science believers among evangelicals could just be the non-conservatives. This goes to the question of whether religious belief really drives opinion or if it's all just political tribalism. I think religious belief does have an effect, but it's complicated.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Vanity Press

Retraction Watch has a bombshell, an injunction against OMICS for deceptive business practices.  Now what pray tell are those.

In her decision granting the injunction Judge Gloria Navarro wrote

The evidence produced by the FTC demonstrates that Defendants engaged in probable misrepresentations regarding journal publishing. On the OMICS website, for example, OMICS makes numerous representations indicating that it follows standard peer-review practices. (See PX12 Att. L at 657, 773, 748, Ex. 12 to Mot. for Prelim Inj., ECF No. 9-12). 1 Under standard industry practice, the peer review process often takes several weeks or even months and involves multiple rounds of substantive feedback from experts in the related field. (See PX13 ¶¶ 9–10). In contrast, the FTC has provided evidence that Defendants’ peer review practices, in numerous instances, took a matter of days and contained no comments or substantive feedback
The Court found that the FTC would likely succeed in proving the merits of its claims. 
This inadequacy is further demonstrated by statements from purported “editors,” which indicate that they never received manuscripts to review or else even agreed to be listed as an editor. (See, e.g., PX03 ¶¶ 3–4; PX11 ¶ 7). In some instances, individuals listed as “editors” without permission requested removal from the website without success. (See, e.g., PX02 ¶ 4; PX08¶¶ 4–7; PX06 ¶ 11).
and the injunction is a doozy.  OMICS is enjoined from (among other things
making any representation, or assisting others in making any representation, expressly or by implication, that any journal or other publication is peer-reviewed unless any work product submitted to that journal or publication is reviewed by peers who are subject matter experts, who are not journal employees, and who evaluate the quality and credibility of the work product, and the representation is otherwise non-misleading;
Now whom does Eli know who publishes with OMICS?

Ned Nikolov, and amusingly what points does Ned make about his OMICS publication:
Ned also gives talks at OMICS conferences about which the judge had a few choice words.

For more on Nikolov see Eli and ATTP

Monday, November 20, 2017

Russian money connections paying for Trump's legal defense against illegal activities with Russians

Yes, I think it's a problem:

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Republican National Committee has paid more than $400,000 in personal legal fees for Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in connection with the investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. At least $12,000 of those funds came from a Ukrainian-born billionaire with ties to Vladimir Putin.

It's a problem that any political party money provides direct financial benefits to electeds - that creates a pathway for anyone who's rich to put money in the pocket of the president.* Money with shadowy connections to a hostile government is even more disastrous. I'll concede that $12,000 isn't a lot, but that's just what we know about now.

Maybe this one money connection to Russia will be cut off - CNN says Trump is planning to stop taking RNC money for his own legal defense and may funnel his own money to his staff's defense. Of course when it comes to promises to spend his own money, what Trump says he'll do and what he actually does are different worlds. If it does come true though, it seems to be a sign of fear.

*I might reluctantly have a different opinion if a non-rich person is ever again elected president, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.