It’s an odd world sometimes.
In market economies, cost and price dislocations are subject to pressures that push them into equilibrium.
Sure, there can be “local monopolies”. So at the movie theatre when you are “captured” inside the ticketed area, a soft drink can run $5 for one, while at the bulk food mart that $5 will get you a 24 pack. At the campground, gasoline can run $6 / gallon when it is $4 at the competitive stations (that are 100 miles away and require an exit and reentry which may involve fees). So there are some common reasons why prices may diverge.
One expects that major competitive markets will reach some kind of equilibrium that is close to parity for equivalent goods.
In regulated industries, this isn’t the case. Prices can be set (and often are set) at arbitrary points by arbitrary political forces. Often this can lead to dramatic dislocations in the economy. In the limit case, in places like the old USSR, where the Central Planned Economy controls all goods supplies and prices, there were cases of farmers feeding bread to pigs. Why? The bread had a price subsidy that made it cheaper than pig feed. (When discovered, these rational farmers were punished severely for not being pig-ignorant and politically correct…)
It came as a bit of a surprise to me that power sources in California were approaching that same kind of “What the???” stage.
Last time I paid the electric power bill, I noticed that the rates now rapidly put one into a place where there were political penalties for using more than an arbitrary “Lifeline” quantity. It was 14 cents / kW-hr for the first 100 something+ kW-hr, then jumped to something like 23.5 cents / kW-hr. That seemed, er, “high” to me. (It runs about 5 cents / kW-hr to make power in most competitive power plants and as low as 2 cents / kW-hr in some older base load facilities).
This got me thinking (always a dangerous thing ;-)
Might there be a cheaper way?
As they were nagging me about the fact that I cooked dinner at dinner time and we watched evening TV in the evening (we have new “Smart Meters” that have managed to figure out most usage is low when folks are sleeping and highest when they get home from work in the evening and turn on lights, entertainment center, cook dinner and wash…). So I got this “Political Nag” about using power the same time everyone else uses power – when it is most desirable and most convenient.
We can escape from the “Smart Meter” if we pay over $100 one time AND something like $25 / month. As the electric part of the bill runs about $100, that’s a pretty steep price. So I figure they will keep sending me paper nags (no, they will never get an email address…)
Looking forward just a bit, I’m fairly certain that they will start to have “Time Of Day” premiums added to prices just as soon as they can get it through the Political Process. It will not be a discount…
My first thought was just that I can make my own electricity. I’ve got a nice Honda generator and at present gasoline prices, I can make it at about $0.50 / kw-Hr (if my estimates are close). So if its “a double”, then the generator can be fired up during “peak”. Yeah, a bit of noise, a bit of smog. Consumption of more petroleum. But nothing is too sacred if you need to go “PC Green” and cut your electricity usage… Still, 50 cents is more than 24 cents and I’d rather pay less, not more.
The next thought was that my Diesel is about the same efficiency without regard to how fast it is running. It makes about 1 kW right now from the alternator and my “average” usage is about 1 kW. (Skipping a bunch of math) I can make power at about 42 cents / kW-hr using my Diesel / 12 vdc alternator and an inverter. PLUS, it lets me use the power in “a few kW bursts” via the battery / inverter set.
Yeah, having the Diesel idle in the driveway would annoy the neighbors and passers by, but… Nothing is too sacred if you need to go “PC Green” and cut your electricity usage… Still, 42 cents is more than 24 cents and I’d rather pay less, not more.
So I looked at the PG&E bill again. Natural Gas runs about $1 / Therm (roughly 100,000 BTU or about 29 kW-hr) and that’s around 3.5 cents per kW-hr worth of fuel. But that’s “baseline” and I’d rapidly be moved into the non-baseline ranges. $1.35 / therm then about $1.75 / therm. So it rapidly runs up to about 5 cents / 6 cents per kW-hr. BUT, you still have to turn it into electricity. That runs it up to about 18 cents / kw-Hr. Hmmmm….. 18 is smaller than 23.5 and I’m starting to like this… ( I could probably get it down closer to 15 cents and maybe even 10 cents / kw-Hr with a bit of work and / or buying some new equipment. If I captured the heat from my generator and used it to, say, heat water, it would approach 5 cents / kW-hr providing I needed the heat… think Alaska and Buffalo New York, not Orlando or Los Angeles… unless you have a pool).
Honda makes a very nice package:
but are only selling it in Europe, Japan, and the North East of the USA. (I guess they don’t care that you can use ‘waste heat’ with an ammonia system to make air conditioning. My dream solution would be one of these units with an ammonia AC unit on it. Heat / AC / and electricity… no kW / BTU wasted. But not having $10,000 or so to put into a custom AC build… it will have to wait for my first $Million from a surprise novel…)
So while that (or for commercial operations, the cogen unit made by Capstone Microturbine – our local high school has one and it has worked well for several years now ) will have to wait, I need a more ‘field expedient’ solution…
OK, on the “ToDo” list has gone: “Investigate getting a cogeneration combined heat/power unit eventually” and “price low end natural gas powered ‘backup generators’ as they will pay for themselves and clear a space in the garage where the neighbors are unlikely to hear it and the gasses can be vented.”
Yeah, having a generator running in a ventilated box in the Garage would annoy the neighbors, bother the spouse, piss off the Local PC Gendarmes and probably violate a few local ordiances, but… Nothing is too sacred if you need to go “PC Green” and cut your electricity usage… Besides, 18 cents is a lot cheaper than 24 cents and 15 cents to a dime starts to be “crazy cheaper”, and I’d rather pay less, not more…
So I’m likely to go shopping at the “RV Recycle Center” for old RV generator units with an easy natural gas conversion, and pricing new units. I know that at low power settings (25% or more away from stoichiometric mix) my precombustion chamber style Diesel will run nicely on natural gas just valved into the air intake. (Masters thesis in U.C. Berkeley Engineering Library plus personal experimentation). So it could be as easy as just running a small fuel line sized hose to the car in the driveway and hooking up the inverter (that I already have from the LAST time the Democrats were screwing around with electricity markets in California). So I can get about 2 kW of power for the cost of a small hose and 2 hours of work. At about 18 to 15 cents / kw-Hr. But I’d rather not have to ‘hook up’ and unhook whenever I go somewhere. So looking for that generator is still on the list…
Still, that 15 cents would be a long way from the 3-5 cents for the fuel. Is there a better way?
Fire! I cause you to Burn!
(Apologies to some 1970′s era rock song only 1/2 stuck in my head…)
In looking at the bill, and knowing what we do at dinner time, it’s clear that the 300 W or less of “TV stuff” isn’t the “bulge”. The water heater is gas, so not the washing or showers. Lighting doesn’t change later at night (goes up, in fact, as the TV goes off).
No, the “bulge” is the stove / oven. “All Electric Kitchen”… and I’m a bit fond of baking and casseroles… The oven is a not very low power GE design that runs about 3 kW, so about $3/4 / hour to operate at my costs. Maybe only $1/2 / hour on bake instead of broil.
Add in the cooktop for the side dishes and It’s easy to hit $1 / hour. Figure I cook a meal for the spouse and me, the kids cook one for them… that can be $2 / night. $60 / month. Just about the size of the “bulge”.
So what I really want is heat, not electricity. And gas makes heat very efficiently.
But I’m not going to put a new chimney in the kitchen for a new oven. What to do, what to do…
(gas is plumbed to the cooktop, so I’ll be swapping it for a gas unit “someday”. That will fix about 1/2 the problem.)
Until I do the swap, though, is there a faster solution?
Looking around, I found a useful chart at wiki. Comparative Gallons Of Gasoline Equivalent for different fuels:
Down a ways in the page is this chart:
Electricity Costs 1 GGE = 33.40 kWh For Local Rate Per kWh $/Gallon Equivalent $0.07 $2.338 $0.08 $2.670 $0.09 $3.006 $0.10 $3.340 $0.11 $3.674 $0.12 $4.000 $0.13 $4.342 $0.14 $4.670 $0.15 $5.010 $0.16 $5.344 $0.17 $5.678 $0.18 $6.012 $0.19 $6.346 $0.20 $6.680 $0.25 $8.350 $0.27 $9.018 $0.28 $9.352 $0.29 $9.686 $0.30 $10.020
What is particularly interesting is that with gasoline running about $4.30 / gallon here, that makes it about 12-14 cents / kw-Hr equivalent. I have a nice Coleman camp stove that runs on gasoline. So all I need to do, really, to cut from 24 cents to 12 cents (roughly) is get my camp stove out, set it on top of the electric cook stove, and use it.
Gasoline would need to rise to over $8 / gallon before that became a losing strategy. At $8 / gallon, the US economy implodes and the situation self-corrects, so the risk of that lasting long is zero. (Even if the ‘fix’ is a bother…)
Quick. Easy. Millions of homes already have one of those gasoline stoves.
If the PC Crowd jump up the price of electricity too much, if coal power prices “necessarily skyrocket” (to quote Obama), it won’t take long for the average Joe and Jane to figure out that they can cut costs by “Camping in the Kitchen”. That is the moment when Herr Commissar will have a “bread and pigs” moment.
Local Propane sells for about $3 / gallon equivalent last time I looked ( in truck sized units), but jumps up closer to $4 / $5 per gallon for home sized tanks. Even at those prices it is cheaper than electricity. Soo…. Cooking on the Big Outdoor Grill just became a much more economical proposition. Time to add “Shopping for Gas Grill” to the list. Sure, it will put more smog in the air, especially when the ribs start dripping on the burners, but hey, nothing’s too big a burden to go “PC Green” and cut electricity usage…
I’ll likely be getting one that is “dual fuel” and can use wood / charcoal along with propane. Why? Well, I have some bamboo that I need to get rid of… and it’s even cheaper than Propane. Saw one at Lowe’s yesterday for about $120. Lets you do smoking of meats too.
But what about things like Bread and Cakes? Not everyone likes “BBQ Flavored Birthday Cake” and it can be a bit hard to get the hickory smell out of the BBQ… Any way I can add a decent oven?
I found two that are interesting. Aside from the Coleman folding camp oven (that is basically just a tin shell set over the food and burner) there is another product that is a solid cube (so not so good for packing) but a more sturdy oven. Something pretty easy to set on the non-BBQ burners next to the grill. And with a nice door.
Also found this nice “cube” design. Don’t know if the bottom is open or closed.
But in any case it is more sturdy than the Coleman (even if it doesn’t fold for packing).
This one is made for a 2 burner kerosene stove (but works on others, too, per the ad). It looks like it has a closed bottom (which I’d expect with kerosene) and is a nice large size:
Update: Following a link or two, I found the “Perfection” stove it is designed to fit. A “made by the Amish” two burner kerosene stove. Runs for 24 hours with one burner on medium on a 1 gallon tank. Call 12 hours with two on medium. I make that about 10 ounces per hour or 5 ounces per burner-hour for “medium” cooking. Locally Kerosene prices are all over the place. From $5 or so / gallon at the gas station to $20 or more for jugs at the more fru-fru stores. Still, one can always get Jet Fuel Kerosene if you try and it runs a bit less. Kerosene is also a safer fuel than gasoline… So about 20 cents / hour / burner on “medium” or about 40 cents / hour using the oven with two burners running. How odd. An Amish solution running about 1/2 the price of my AEK… While I really want one of these (just because it’s so ‘retro’ and connected to the Amish roots) I don’t really have the place to set it up. But IFF I ever get a cabin in the woods…
So I might “go for it” as it does everything I really need and would let me use relatively cheap gasoline.
But for a “cleaner” propane experience, there’s this one:
Currently selling for under $200 is this little gem. Like a portable “real stove” with 2 propane burners on top. Modest built in kitchen like oven. Just dandy for me and the spouse. (Kids move out next year when graduation is over). Runs on disposable bottles for “camping” and can hook up to a bulk tank if desired. Nice. So an oven on the Patio would be all of 20 feet further from the fridge than the one in the wall. I can live with that. Means a bit more time on the patio and less in the kitchen, but I’m fine with that.
Though for a bit over $150 you can get ‘just an oven’ at WalMart:
Just about the right size for a 2 person casserole or the occasional muffins.
These folks have one for under $70 as I type. A little taller with less of a 13 x 9 dish shape, though:
Decisions decisions… from $40 for the Colman Tin Tent on my existing camp stove to $70-$150 for a “casseroles and more” and on up to $200 ish for an all up stove /oven combo. Not sure which, but clearly it’s time to “spruce up the Patio / Kitchen” and do some measuring and planning. I’ll likely go for the one from Wally World as it does my favorite 9 x 13 sized lasagna dish… and I don’t need the added burners on top of the other one.
There are even more choices listed here:
Yes, I’d much rather use 5 cent per kW-hr nuclear electricity in my clean All Electric Kitchen with zero smoke, fumes, CO2, fire hazard, fuel hazards, and production of soot / particulate matter and push button on/off convenience. But “We MUST Go Green!” after all, and that means using less electricity. (Clearly it must, as the Democrats keep trying to put electricity generators out of business and make prices “necessarily skyrocket”).
I also own an old Dutch Oven of the type for use with coals. Looks like this summer I’ll actually learn to use it… I can make free coals via the bamboo, and it’s hard to get cheaper than “free”. I’ve also bought some cinderblocks and $10 of ‘dryer vent’ materials with which to make a patio “Rocket Stove as seen here: http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/beer-cans-will-save-the-world/ and initial calculations say I can make a decent E85 stove pretty easily. ( The 85% ethanol 15% gasoline blend sells for $3.80 or so locally. Much cheaper than pure alcohol in tiny bottles and cleaner burning than gasoline). We’ll see. It may have some fractional distillation issues with the gasoline component coming off first.
(Though I do have to say, I have this feeling that we, collectively, are headed toward a “feeding bread to pigs” economy and that makes me just a tiny bit worried… as I am not pig-ignorant; and that can be hazardous to my freedom.)
A summer of “Camping at Home” and “playing with fire” looks to be the plan for the summer. Besides, it will get the “cooking heat” out of the house… and cut AC needs.
So I’ll be digging out the gasoline stove while I price propane ovens and smoker / wood-propane grills and learn to make bamboo charcoal. No price is too high to pay for “going Green!” … other than 24 cents per kw-Hr thermal…