Strange How Economics Works…

On the Camping at home is cheaper thread in comments, Kakatoa had pointed out that the local utilities and the rate setting commissions were planning to have a load of E-cars on the road and expected to jack up electric rates generally to about $1/2 / kW-hr to pay for all the Green Subsidies and Solar / Wind Mandates.

kakatoa says:
3 June 2012 at 3:24 am (Edit)


Yes, the goal is to have bunches of EV’s on the road in CA by 2020. The ISO’s (PG&E, SCE, San Diego) and a couple of the larger public utilities (LADWP and SMUD) have included EV in their expected demand as noted here-

Last time I checked PG&E’s E9 rate schedules (for charging EV’s) the owner of EV’s gets a pretty good discount on the costs for their electrical energy (and they don’t pay sales taxes or any road use taxes either) at home as long as they don’t charge at peak times. A lot of the 240 volt public charging stations are free (to the EV owner that is). I am not sure who picks up the costs………… The fast charging stations (440 volt) are not free to the best of my knowledge. NRG is going to be putting some fast charging stations in shortly.

It is my understanding that PG&E is projecting the price of Tier 2 energy to be $.19 in 2022 and Tier 4 prices to be 50 cents. They didn’t note Tier 3 prices but they will be close to $.45 or so. IF the economy improves and fewer of PG&E’s customers fall into the CARE category (currently 28% of their households fall into this category) the increases for Non CARE customers will be mitigated at bit. .

The “Lifeline” rate is what is charged at the bottom tier (currently about 12.8 cents per my bill for the first 300 ish kW-hr) then it pops up to about 14.6 cents up to 130% of ‘baseline. Over that you end up at 30 cents. Headed for 1/2 a buck.

Why the fuzzy numbers on baseline sizes? Because there isn’t one… from:

Electricity: Baselines

How are baselines determined?
Baseline quantities are set by state law and implemented with the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission. Since baseline quantities are set based on the average use for residential customers in an area, they can vary by geographic location, or baseline territory. Baseline quantities also vary by time of year (summer or winter), and are based on your home’s heating sources.

Baseline quantities are set between 50 and 60 percent of the electricity the average residential customer uses in each territory. In the winter, all-electric customers have a higher baseline quantity, between 60 to 70 percent of average use, to account for electric heating.

Thank you Herr Commissar for making an entirely irrational and looney system, but very Politically Correct, that assures nobody can have a clue what “baseline” is, and so can not possibly manage to it nor plan from it. Vary, as it does, based on your neighbors, the time of year, the geography, what kind of heater they think you have, and what Herr Commissar had for lunch before the last meeting…

But you get the idea.

At present the PG&E site lists the Tier 3 price as 30 cents / kW-hr for usage above 130% AND below 200% of “baseline”, whatever it may be… then it jumps to 34 cents.

Now I thought that prices of 1/2 a buck sounded a bit like “Crazy Talk” simply because with natural gas at about 25 cents / Gallon Of Gasoline Equivalent (GGE) you can make electricity from it way cheap. On industrial scales we’re talking single digit cents cheap. Markets would normally fix that kind of crazy talk with market discipline. Any large power user who is still left in the state would run screaming for the exits as well. (Large data center? Here? At 1/2 buck / kW-hr? Now that IS crazy talk… and likely part of why Apple put their Cloud center in the Carolinas and not here.)

Except we don’t have a market in California. We have a Central Planned Economy with Boards of Commissars setting rates for things (then trying to make enough “patch over the problem” rules to prevent markets from showing their folly).

Delivered to the home, natural gas is far far more costly than that bulk wholesale rate. Running either 90 cents or 122 cents / therm (about 100,000 BTU or about 100 cubic feet or just shy of the 114,000 BTU in a gallon of gasoline). Still, at “about a buck” per GGE, it’s pretty darned cheap.

The obvious thing to do is buy a Natural Gas Generator and make your own electricity. At 1/2 buck / kW-hr, it will be a definite money maker. (Or payment saver). But is it ALREADY reasonable to do? Perhaps / perhaps not. Need to “run the numbers to know”… So I did.

Web Sites and Spreadsheets

I found a surprising number of Diesel small portable generators. A decade or two back they were quite rare. I also found a decent variety of Tri-fuel generators that run on your choice of gasoline, propane, or natural gas.

Making a spreadsheet out of the “specs” I rapidly realized that a couple of the web sites were “making stuff up” as they were ending up with fuel consumption numbers about 1/2 of every one else. So Caveat Emptor still rules.

I’ll save you all the details. The bottom line was that the Honda generators get a little more efficient with size from 1 kW up to about 6 kW and the gasoline generators are VERY efficient at full throttle, but lose efficiency at part throttle. Enough that it would be worth the charge / discharge losses to put all the “small stuff’ on a battery / inverter box. Run the generator full power during the day while doing things like washing cloths, dishes, running the TV and all. Go to the battery box in the evening when it’s ‘just some lights’.

They were surprisingly close to the Diesels in total $/kW. I used $4.50 / gallon (as in California it is running between $4.20 and $4.50 now) and got about 70 cents / kW-hr for most generators. Some less. I’m going to quote numbers based on $3.50 / gallon here, as I think that’s closer to what regular unleaded costs in most of the rest of the USA.

My little Honda 1 kW generator makes electrons at 61 cents full power, $1.21 half power. (Yes, about 1/2 efficiency too…) The 3 kW Honda runs at 59 / 85 so there’s a big efficiency gain with size. The EG6500 runs at 56 / 80 but doesn’t have the same inverter features and looks noisier. Clearly using retail gasoline isn’t going to be competitive at those rates.

Moving on to Diesel, I found several neat little generators. Even down into the 1 kW range. (I’d have bought one decades back if they had been available here, then.) Subaru makes one. It caught my eye, especially when I saw the jaw dropping performance figures from one site… 40 Cents / kW-hr from a 3 kW to 5 kW generator? So I checked further… Walmart lists the same generator, but with different performance numbers. It comes out at 58 cents. Much more likely.

Maybe there is some subtle difference between them, but I think “sellers puff” more likely:

Several other generators all ‘pencil out’ at similar performance numbers to the Walmart cluster, so I think it more likely they are reporting the real numbers.

But even at that rate, it isn’t quite cheap enough to become my own utility. Clearly I need cheaper fuel.

So I did a quick check on natural gas generators. I chose to look in particular at the Winco brand simply because I’d heard of them before. I have no idea if they are “optimal” or not.

Using my natural gas prices, I “did the math”.

Again, though, I ran into “sellers puff” at one web site. “Crazy Talk” consumption numbers. 27 cents / kW-hr on gasoline. So I checked some more. The Winco site itself was much more modest (and likely correct) at a calculated 57 cents / kW-hr on gasoline. Just a penny or two more than the best Honda. So then I put in natural gas prices.

That took just a bit of conversion. The Winco site listed consumption as 138 cu-ft / hour. I used $1.50 / Therm for the gas prices (mid-point of the range for me) and it came out to 24 Cents / kW-hr. Less than the next electric Tier up. Even at the top gas Tier for me it was 27 cents. So 3 cents under. In theory, I can run one of these and arbitrage my gas bill vs my electric bill at about 3 to 6 cents gain (depending on gas tier) right now, any time I go over my electric baseline current tier (whatever it is this week…)

Though I must note that there is a note at the bottom of the page that the “capacity” needs to be derated by 10% for propane and 20% for natural gas, so those might be 30 cents and 34 cents respectively depending on when the ‘derating’ is applied in the calculations.

The Punchline

So I look at availability

Winco’s HPS9000VE is ready to produce electricity when other generators are out of gas. With a dual carburetor this generator can quickly and easily switch between gasoline, LP gas, and natural gas. Gasoline is difficult to store in large quantities and can be scarce during storms and other disasters. The flexibility of the HPS9000VE will help you have power when and where you need it.

Due to increased demand contact factory for availability.

At even just marginal break-even these things are selling out. Perhaps there are places with lower delivered gas prices, or perhaps there are places with higher electric rates (though I doubt it). But it looks like I’m not the only one who is looking at the natural gas vs electricity arbitrage…

And at $1/2 per kW-hr?

Let a million generators rumble…

That is the problem with attempting to “harness market forces”. The market never submits to the leash. They are called “Emergent Systems” for a reason. UNexpected behaviours emerge. ALWAYS.

Generally a free market has emergent behaviours that are beneficial (see Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand). Occasionally they have bad effects (like price gouging after a natural disaster or like "Fattest Wallet Wins" of the Robber Barron monopolist era.) So we do need a tiny bit of Macro-Regulation on some markets. But once you enter the realm of micro-regulation and micro-management of markets, it's Katie Bar The Door 'cause a whole lot of "emerging" is about to misbehave.

And I've not even started looking at the industrial scale issues. At those scales you can buy natural gas closer to "spot" (so about 1/5 my cost basis above) and with larger scale comes larger efficiency in generators as well. Capstone Turbine makes a great package (even comes 'ruggedized' for sale / use on offshore oil platforms) at the 30 kW, 60 kW and 200 kW sizes. My local high school put one in as their swimming pool heater. Uses the same natural gas as their old heater, but they get 30 kW of electricity "for free" in the process.

All Capstone MicroTurbines operate:

Continuously or On-Demand
Stand alone or Grid Connect
Individually or Multi-pack
Run on a variety of fuels
Low or High Pressure Natural Gas
Biogas (landfill, wastewater treatment centers, anaerobic)
Flare gas

It is devices like that which force an arbitrage between fuel types. It is silly Commissars thinking they can make electricity cost $1/2 / kW-hr to pay for Green Fantasies that “don’t get it” (and they usually try implementing even more prohibitions rather than admit their error when the SHTF moment comes).

So if you are any kind of major company, looking at the power bill, you will be open to the idea of a co-gen site and cutting your bill in half. Capstone isn’t the only one, there are others. I managed a 119,000 sq.ft. facility for a while. I paid the power bill. I know what happens. I also helped build out the Newark site for Sun Microsystems (on the networking side). They were installing large cogeneration units for the computer room support. That was a decade+ ago… with much lower cost power.

Honda even makes a home sized gogeneration unit that they presently only sell in the East and North (as they are selling the ‘heating’ feature of it). Someone needs to tell them heat can make air-conditioning and that California is going to make their product profitable even if the heat is thrown away…

It will start with the large industrial users and very rich folks with large facilities. Likely the PUC will try to give dramatic "buy down" on the rate to keep them in the customer list. This, though, just puts more costs lower down the food chain moving the problem, but not fixing it.

So "watch this space" as we move from 30 to 50 cents / kW-hr in California and the sales of natural gas power plants blows through the roof.

Watch, too, as anyone who uses much above “lifeline” rates either finds a way to bypass the “Rate Structure” or exits the State.

I understand Texas has low cost electricity and a business friendly environment…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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30 Responses to Strange How Economics Works…

  1. George says:

    Except we don’t have a market in California. We have a Central Planned Economy with Boards of Commissars setting rates for things

    I would suggest considering moving out of California and coming back to the USA as soon as practicable.

  2. EM – a note on the baseline: if everyone does what is obviously required and uses only 70% of this year’s average in the locality, then next year’s baseline will also be reduced by another 30%. You’ll be running hard to stay in the same place. In that case, getting your own generation seems like it’s the obvious thing to do. What’s to stop a law being passed against generating your own electricity? That would unfortunately also knock out most cars, of course, since they depend on generators. All those solar cells would also become illegal – thou shalt only buy your electricity from PG+E. There’ll be a black market in AA batteries….

    It sounds like if you’re going this route you’ll have to place your order now before the rush. If you only used it to stop you going over the threshold for punitive rates, then you might end up saving money pretty soon.

  3. George says:

    Also, I believe you can remove road tax from gasoline or diesel used for power generation and not used for a road vehicle. So for diesel, I would look at the price of heating oil instead, which doesn’t have any fuel tax added. Gasoline, I would look at the price of ag gas which also has no road tax.

  4. Bruce Ryan says:

    I was thinking the same thing George. The state of Washington has a big road tax tacked on to gasoline prices. It is possible to buy off road gas and diesel which isn’t taxed. But the providers of delivered gasoline are in it to make a profit so there isn’t any savings in bulk delivery.
    I’m keen on a big natural gas generator, provide juice to the neighborhood, Run a construction style temp power cord and temp box … but I have the feeling California would have issues with your efforts.I am willing to bet , just the paperwork involved,(let alone lawyer fees) would cost more than you saved.
    So there you have it, the next war
    (as in war on drugs) will be a war on power generation, as criminal types :-) provide unsanctioned power .

  5. Sandy McClintock says:

    I recently pointed out similar calculations to a friend who is an area manager for the electricity distribution grid here in Australia. His worry is the need to spend silly money to cover the 48 hours each year when the grid has to cope with super-high usage. Providing the infrastructure to do this adds very substantially to the average retail price. When I told him about small generator costs his reaction was – well perhaps we should buy everyone a small generator and let the grid shed the super-high loads occasionally. It might be cheaper than making the grid capacity big enough for every occasion. Of course, this sort of logical thinking is going on in parallel with the silly pricing to cover green fantasies.
    BTW I heard a nice statistic “If all the fuel for a typical road in the UK had to be grown on the edge of that road, the required bio-fuel vegetation would occupy a strip 8Km wide” (TEDxWarwick – David MacKay – How the Laws of Physics Constrain Our Sustainable Energy Options)

  6. E.M.Smith says:


    Yes, I deliberately left “road tax” in (about 40 cents / gallon IIRC) just so there would be some pessimistic allowance in the numbers (to offset things like “errors and omissions” as well as things like lack of allowance for depreciation or labor). There’s a place near here that sells untaxed Diesel. For Ag gas, not sure where to get it. Generally speaking, though, California tries to make anything that avoids their tax maw painfully difficult via tons of paper…

    At one time (last time I looked at this kind of thing during Governor Grey (out) Davis and electricity at mini-bar prices with rolling blackouts) I could buy methanol in bulk barrels for about $1 / Gallon (about $2 / GGE ). As I’ve “converted” a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower to run on it via turning the mixture screw, it’s an easy choice….

    Frankly, loads of liquid “chemicals” are made from natural gas and have prices modestly closely tided to that price. So in a sane world I could find them, too. In California any user of things with a VOC (Volatile Organic Content I think) rating gets a load of paperwork and has to show disposal systems et. al. all with licenses… (Drives my Mechanic up the wall as he has to pay a fortune just to have dirty solvent from cleaning transmissions and old transmission fluid hauled away. He also can’t get decent solvent any more.)

    So on my “someday” list would be to revisit that vendor (if they still exist) and see what denatured methanol / ethanol is going for these days. Ought to be down in the $2 / $3 range. Taxed E85 is going for $3.80 or so near here, so it’s about $3.20 with all the profit and petroleum costs built in, but minus tax. IIRC, too, the untaxed Diesel was running about $3.80 / gallon.

    In all these cases (except possibly the methanol) natural gas from the pipe is cheaper.

    Per leaving California:

    Well, I tried last year… but the gig in Florida didn’t stick. (Though as only a contract it was just going to be me ‘out of State’ until something longer came along). The daughter has one more semester in college, then she’s done. Give it about a year all told and we’re down to just “The Mrs and me”. That’s my target date now.

    I’ll likely look in the Texas / Ok / La area next. They seem to have their head on straight, have low costs for fuel and electricity, and have a decent climate for growing things. (Especially love Texas Hill Country ) and have family in the area.

    For now I’m just doing “duck and cover” and trying to avoid being hit by the flying bits of “debris” as our Looney Side Of Left has it’s “fling poo” moments. Getting harder over time, though. As more folks have abandoned the place (smartest and most mobile first) there’s been less of a counterweight to the Loonies. Heck, we even got Governor Moonbeam back…

    Oh, and the son is moving to Chicago in the next few months if he can land a Marketing gig. He and friends are going to build / found a church. I might ‘tag along’ just because I like to build things and it’s something to do. So there are possibilities. (Don’t like Chicago winters, though, so not a long term place for me… I’m more “Sunbelt” material ;-)


    You noticed that, eh? Has a built in “Someone is screwed or you are all screwed” escalator.

    FWIW I’ve stated a “just don’t buy” program as the way to avoid the punitive rates (that were on my prior bill, but that I did not hit on this bill, so it’s working):

    After about $40 and a year of looking, I finally found a CFL bulb that will work in the kitchen. Decent color ( so no ‘green eggs and ham’ look), fits in the single bulb fully enclosed fixture (despite CFLs not being appropriate for fully enclosed fixtures – but I bought a larger fishbowl for it that looks nicer and gives more heat dissipation surface) and gives plenty of light. A 30 Watt CFL instead of a 100 W to 150 W halogen. That was one of 3 remaining incandescent fixtures that just didn’t work acceptably with CFLs. The other is the bathroom where I’ve got a similar enclosed fixture, but on a dimmer, and where color temperature is even more important. (Makeup and spouses hazel blue/green eyes turn strange colors easily under CFL bulbs and while I’ve found an LED bulb that works well enough on dimmers with only a little ‘squirm’ at low settings – they don’t last long overheating inside fully enclosed fixtures…)

    2 other rooms had their ‘lights on dimmers’ replaced with LED Bulbs. 3 x 3 Way Lamps have gone to CFL or LED with only one still on a 3 way bulb (as I’m using it to use up the 50 Watt element leaving me with 100 Watt bulbs for the bathroom… which would not be needed if they would let me buy 100 Watt bulbs…) and one has a ‘touch dimmer” but may some day become an LED bulb (now that I’ve found one of THEM that works well in a lamp with the need for full up and down light coverage.)

    So lighting has had about 400 – 500 Watts taken out of it. I didn’t mind running the Incandescent Bulbs during the winter as the heat is a feature and I like the instant on and light quality better, but if they are going to whack me for being efficient and doing “combined heat and light” during the winter (changing to crappier CFLs in summer) well I can just “be stupid” too. I’d been on the ‘seasonal change’ plan for the last decade or so. Waiting for LED bulbs to mature enough. Now they are basically there. For $10 I can get a nice “instant on” bulb with good color temperature that works on a dimmer. For $20 a bright one suited for most uses including down and up light from a table lamp. So about a year ago I started slowly working the LEDs in as things burned out. This year I did the “seasonal change” and just won’t change back in Fall.

    In winter I’d also used little ‘oil filled’ roll around room heaters to just heat the bedroom at night. Why waste gas heating the whole house? During the day some times too (everyone else is gone, just me, might as well just heat one room…) But again with a PC Penalty for being efficient and using electricity, I’ll just leave the Gas Heater set to 72 F all winter and forget about it. It will waste some gas, but gas is cheap… (I’d gotten “praise” on the last winter PG&E bill for being “below averages” and not consuming nearly as much gas as my neighbors… in the same bill where I was nagged about electricity use at dinner time.)

    I’ll likely look into some kind of single room non-electric heater, just because… but don’t like the idea of flames in rooms. Maybe I can heat rocks on the bamboo fired BBQ and put a bucket of them in the corner ;-) But seriously, I once saw a minature “pot belly stove” and always wanted one, but couldn’t justify it. About a foot+ tall and 6 inches / 8 inches around. I could easily make a small metal stand / pan for one to sit in and a ‘portable ductwork’ flue out the window (like window mounted AC only different ;-) and have a cheery little bamboo powered room heater just for me…. Probably not something the spouse would accept in the bedroom, but I could put one in my office pretty easily. I’d be “OK” with “fire in a metal can on a metal pan while I’m awake and with an exterior flue”… especially as a toy to play with.

    But far more importantly:

    The “Smart Meter Report” showed very clearly something I already knew. As I’d already done a lot of CFL and LED lighting ( I’ve been doing CFLs since before they were trendy – when you had to make your own lamp adapters from a ballast on a cord and put PL adapters in the socket in the lamp) and we have gas heat, it all comes down to two things, really:

    Entertainment Centers
    Stove / Oven

    And most of that being the Stove / Oven.

    I’ve put the bedroom entertainment center on a “remote power kill” switch. With a little ‘clicker’ I can chop power to the whole thing. First did that some years ago, but mostly didn’t bother during non-summer months (as a couple of hundred Watts of “standby draw” nicely kept the bedroom just about the right temperature 8 months of the year. 2 were too hot, 2 were too cold) but now I’m just being more religious about “chop power when not watching TV”. I’ll eventually add one to the Living Room cluster as well, If I need to. There are some things I’ve tended to record to tape, but not so much lately, so easy enough to just kill it.

    But by far the bulk is the Kitchen. An AEK All Electric Kitchen. When we moved in, the Fridge had sucked down an AVERAGE of 900 W/hr. (Now my total usage is under that at about 15 kW-hr / day) so I know it’s not the Fridge.) We’ve already talked about the bulb; where I really could not get excited about 100 W in the bulb especially when 6 or 7 months of the year the heat was a feature; when running a 3 kW oven or 2 x 1 kW burners or both. No, the “issue” is almost entirely that 3 kW oven (thus my posting) and the 4 x 1 kW+ burners. (Need to look them up to know exactly – the oven IS 3 kW, but these are a bit of a guess… be right back… Quick check of a stove site shows them as 1500 Watt for the small ones and 2600 Watt for the large ones so average closer to 2 kW / burner)

    Well, about 2 years ago I bought a gas “cook top” to replace the electric. Why? I like gas better. Gas is plumbed “to the wall” and I figured it would be a quick drop in. Then I started to do the install and read the directions. That sucker needs a hole with 1/16 inch clearances. The family had more folks constantly in the kitchen then, and being without a stove for a few weeks would be an annoyance, so the cooktop went to the “someday” project list. (Don’t mind having bought it, it was being sold on clearance at a low price and exactly what I wanted – no longer available… so it was good to inventory). What this means is just that once I have the Patio Kitchen working well, I pull that cooktop. At 8 kW total it’s THE major power suck in the house. It has about 1-2 kW being actually drawn for about 1 hour at breakfast, 1 hour at lunch, and often 2 hour to 3 hours at dinner. (We cook dinner in 2 batches as the 2 vegetarians don’t eat what the spouse and I eat and also like dinner about 2 hours later). All up we’re talking about 8 kW-hrs / day or 240 kW-hr / month. Probably 2/3 of my electric bill (given the other things done).

    So that “someday” project has become a “this summer” project. I have all the materials. Just need to pick a time and do it.

    I expect that to accomplish more than all the rest combined. And do more than a generator would do. But until that happens, I have 4 or 5 months of “Patio Cooking” ahead of me as a simple and immediate way to just stop using the cooktop.

    For example:

    I now make morning coffee / tea (and afternoon as well) on a propane camp stove (using up a 15 year old or so 1 lb canister of propane from the standby emergency kit that really ought to be replaced with a new one anyway) or on the Coleman Gasoline camp stove (if making eggs / omelet too). I make my morning porridge (oatmeal or rolled barley groats) on the “Magic Heat” glycol stove (that needs to be used up since the can was rusting) as it simmers nicely without burning / boiling. (Folks complain that it doesn’t boil water fast, but there is more to life than boiling water – for a camp stove with no adjustment, you want a nice simmer, not a fast boil and burn). Dinner has been cooked either on the gasoline stove, or on the BBQ Grill with a propane burner for the side dish. The BBQ Grill is a cheap portable one I bought for $15 while on the road about a decade back. About 1/2 meter in diameter it uses a propane cylinder too. It still has the orginal one on it that I bought way back when. It just doesn’t use much fuel, and I’d not used it that much. Now I do. ( I found that a small tin of water on one edge, and a chunk or two of hickory on top of the grill, and it makes great “smoked chicken” and does Polish Sausage to die for… I’m liking this a lot…)

    So for now, I’m using up 2 old cans of propane that need to be used before they rust out, and learning what I want in a decent charcoal smoker / grill. I’ve cut my stove top usage to ‘nearly nothing’ (only when I’m just so desperately in need of morning coffee that I can’t wait ;-) and I’ve basically swapped over to “Slow Q” and “Smokey Meats” instead of “Chicken in a pot in the box in the wall in the kitchen”. The spouse confirms that the food is much more interesting ( i.e. it’s not just ME being enthusiastic…) and I’m basically cooking for free on “sunk costs”. When the little cans run out, I need to hook up the 20 lb tank that’s mostly full left over from about a decade back when my old “roll around BBQ” died / rusted out and got pitched. That will likely take me until next year to use up…

    By then I ought to have the gas cooktop installed.

    Oh, and one of the kids got a large Propane Grill / BBQ for a gift. It is now set up and I expect them to do more BBQ meals on it and a bit less in the kitchen too. (I’m not using it just so it stays “special” and “all theirs” and also because I’m doing messy smoked stuff and they want clean vegetarian BBQ – so things like roast ears of corn and veggy kebobs with Teriyaki sauce.)

    On my “buy list” is a smoker BBQ. I’m still figuring out which one. I’d looked at a cheap Brinkman and when reading about it learned of the shortcomings. (coals under water pan, hard to add charcoal part way through, everything vertical access from the top only). So I started my own ‘ersatz’ smoker experiments in the portable. And really like the results. Eventually I’ll get some kind of smoker (likely a vertical with door) and set it up on the back patio. Then the grill goes back to being just a grill. Eventually, too (and perhaps part of the same process) I’ll get a larger grill. Then again, this one is doing just great and is just the right size for 2 folks… so I’m hard pressed to figure why I want to have a grill sized for 10 people… Also on the “buy list” is an oven that sits on the camp stove, or just learning to bake in a proper large covered grill / BBQ.

    In essence, I’m just going to abandon the kitchen oven and leave it for the spouse doing the occasional cookies or the kids doing whatever they do (that isn’t much – warmed taquitos?) and move my baking to the patio on gas or charcoal.

    After that, it is very unlikely I’ll be “above average” electricity consumption and the absolute cost will be trivial. Heck, it was down to $54 or so on the last bill (about 1/2 of the one just prior to it, and before I’d abandoned the AEK). I’ll likely build the battery box and install the inverter (again, as I have the parts already – the project got shelved when Grey (out) Davis was recalled and we got stable power back). Then put the entertainment center and 1/2 the light on it. (Leaving the fridge, house heater, AEK, Washer / Dryer, and the other half of the lights on wall power). That way, post quake or post PC Power Cuts, I have a working set of light and communications. It also means I can charge the batteries from my choice of {wall power, 1 kW Honda, 1 kW Mercedes Diesel at idle, New NatGas Generator, whatever} for various kinds of playing. That’s for next summer, though.

    This summer I’ve got a patio kitchen to build and an AEK to make 1/2 Gas.

    Sometime after all that I’ll worry about buying another generator. By then the ‘payback period’ on the generator is likely to be rather long. It’s also likely that I’ll not need nearly as large a generator… Heck, there’s a place that converts the Honda to ‘Tri-fuel’ and I might just have my existing 1 kW job converted. Running it about 1/4 to 1/3 of the day would likely be enough to power everything on the battery box plus a lot. Probably the garage and washer / dryer too (gas dryer – but I think I’d need a second larger inverter for the motor starting…)

    One thing that’s pretty clear, though: No way in hell I’m going to pay 1/2 buck for a kW-hr.

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  8. Pascvaks says:

    The difference between ‘good’ times and ‘bad’ times is the nature of your ‘anticipation’. Would think that this difference is also true in economics. We don’t seem to be waiting for some new wonder in this or that, we seem to be waiting for the roof to cave in.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Bruce Ryan:

    “Pssst! Hey, buddy, want some Watts? Good quality and cheap!!”


    @Sandy McClintock:

    Might be interesting to take a map of the UK and widen each road to 8 km. See if any land was left for the people ;-)

    I can only hope that Spain crashes so hard that the effect of “Green Energy” is seen fast enough to stop the insanity in the rest of the world.

    California is a lost cause in any case. Our major industry is based on belief in fantasies and performing fiction. No real surprise our politicians would act the same…

    At any rate, there’s a bit of a ‘price lid’ at about 30 to 40 cents just based on DIY with easily available machines and home delivered natural gas. The lid will be lower for major power users as they can bypass the home rate structure and get gas cheaper. Then there will be the “creative” folks.

    Heck, I’m seriously thinking of getting one of those little Diesel jobs and making my own Biodiesel out of waste vegetable oil. I’ve made biodiesel just for fun before. It’s not hard. ( 19% ethanol, 80% filtered oil, 1% lye as a catalyst. Gently warm and stir. Let stand. Separate layer of biodiesel from glycerin. Dry. Use.) Could likely get the fuel cost down to under a dime / kW-hr.

    That’s the kind of thing that Herr Commissar never figures out…

    Oh, and I’ll be talking to my Mechanic about a little idea… See, he has this transmission oil to dispose of. Filtered to about 1-5 microns, it’s great Diesel fuel. Take an old wrecker (but with a working Diesel engine) and add a larger industrial alternator. Suddenly his costs for “waste disposal” drop, his electric bill drops, and nobody will really notice a motor running at a car repair place… Just unplug the drop cord from the shop to the “wreck” when inspection time comes and flip the breakers the other way…

  10. EM – one thing about running a genny all the time is the noise. I haven’t seen an intelligently designed exhaust pipe (muffler) that really does the job well, but I think one could be designed to provide almost-total silence (still get some mechanical noise from tappets and the block noise) using analogues of electronic filter design. Basically send the exhaust gas through a spiral pipe that has small holes drilled in it, and is in a larger cylinder with an exit-port at one end. Each small hole will have a delay in the sound emitted, and they sum together to give zero. It’s not too difficult to make if you can weld, but would be somewhat larger than a standard silencer. Not a problem if you have a permanent installation. For a genny, which runs (hopefully) at a constant speed, the design is simple and a substantial reduction in noise would be achieved using just two holes in the spiral pipe so the sound emitted from each hole is in antiphase.

    Since I can now get “warm white” 3000K LED bulbs that use around 3W each and give just around the same light output as a 20W Halogen, I’ve been replacing the CFLs in the house with LEDs. Unlike the rather stupid LED bulbs before built from the discrete wired white LED packages that send most of the light in a 20° spread, these ones are SMD devices that give a much wider spread of light. They are instant-on which is nicer than CFL, and the light output is pretty smooth spectrally. In a couple of years or so I expect OLEDs to be mature enough to use as home lighting, and these should produce less heat and be an even closer match to sunlight, thus avoiding your need for SAD lights since the whole house would give you the same effect. From this point of view, even if they cost much more than standard LEDs to start with, the benefits are probably worth it.

    In Texas I’ve heard they smoke Camels. Might be difficult to get a whole one into your smoker, though.

  11. Petrossa says:

    Around here there are many farmers without electricity mains so they have to use a generator. They are not happy campers. As stated before the noise, especially at night drives you nuts. The permits for fuelstorage. As soon as you store more then X litres of fuel you need a fully certified fueldepot, costing big $$. Then the batteries, AC/DC converters, switchover system, PSU etc and you are very deeply out of pocket and stuck with a not too reliable electricity supply.

    Not a real solution. Btw our 82% nuclear energy base tarif is 0.045 eurocent.

  12. DirkH says:

    Watch out for commercial micro cogen units (like the Honda ones) combined with batteries.
    Denmark, followed by Germany, has crazy electricity prices (here in Germany a tierless tariff applies, you can pick a provider, they average out at 23.5 Eurocents/kWh or so, that’s 29 US cents at 1.2423 USD/EUR.

    So there’s a growing market for such complete systems, as there are no signs of green madness subsiding in Denmark or Germany; we still have a green one-party-with several names-system.

  13. pouncer says:

    Texas’s gov’t is still a gov’t and therefore still crazy.

    The headline (and url) tells it all, really.

    We have deregulated the retail market but still have bureaucrats in charge of wholesale electricity pricing and trading.

    One of the biggest news outlets left in the country runs a headline synonymous with “Dog Bites Man” : “Price Controls Expected to Create Shortages” or “Regulators Unable to Bend Reality to their Whim”

    However, comparative advantage is what it is, and Texas still seems to be comparatively less crazy than California. If you do decide to move, consider the Dallas area, and drop me a note. I’ll buy you a beer during your “look see” and point out some nice cheap homesteads in areas without too much crazy zoning. (That so you can continue your Darwin’s Garden experiments, etc.)

  14. PaulID says:

    if you are looking at smokers here is a good place to start she made her own UDS and has several more also. (she also has some amazing recipes.)

  15. E.M.Smith says:


    Thanks! I took a quick peek and it looks great. UDS threw me but my Duck got it:

    Ugly Drum Smoker. Hmmm….. I have welding skills. Wonder where I can get a drum without chemical issues?… ;-)

    As I love bacon, but can’t stand spending very large bucks for slabs of crappy lard called bacon, I’m probably already hooked. Watched “Good Eats” and one show he was making bacon using an ersatz smoker made from an old metal storage locker, a hotplate w/ tin pan of wood, and some drier exhaust tubing… Initial experiences with the little BBQ have been good enough that I’m sure I’ll be doing more. Just a question of deciding what works best for the least bucks.


    My “Texas Uncle” lives in Canton… So we come through every couple of years. I stopped there on the way back from Florida, for example.

    Like the Richardson area too. If I’m ever headed that way, I’ll likely be posting a trip report and you can holler at me or I’ll holler your way.

    Yes, it is all about comparative advantage. ( The Texas vehicle inspection and dozen stickers on your windshield is a downer, BTW. California doesn’t do that.)


    Nice idea for a muffler, and yes, noise is a big issue. Major reason I’m not running one now. ( I thought about the gas co-gen install back in 1990 or so after our quake) Easiest fix is to run the exhaust into a large cement box in the ground… So you make a cinder block generator house (double walls to reduce noise leakage) line it with fiberglass (so the whole thing is a large muffler) put the generator (with it’s own sound dampening side panels on it) in the box and run the exhaust through “the bottom half” that is more cinderblocks buried in the dirt. The ‘heat exchanger’ has the cold part starting at the cold end in the box and the hot end leaving near the engine. So the exhaust also gets cooled strongly taking energy out of the expansion pulses.

    Whole thing ends up pretty quiet. Takes a lot of work, though, so people usually don’t do it. As commercial units are in the 60-70 dB range, just any kind of sound wall and it is hard to hear inside the house. Don’t put it near the pool, though ;-)

    Yes, LEDs have matured enough. I’ve started the (slow) conversion. Takes time for the CFLs to get used up … and I stocked up on a drawer of them at about 50 to 90 cents each on ‘buy down’ at Walmart – knowing they would evaporate once the subsidy was eliminated on the incandescent ban… Don’t think they will do much for SAD. That takes UV and I don’t get a tan under my LED bulbs… We’ll see, though.

    Per “Smoking Camels”: They smoke darned near anything in Texas, even heard one guy say he “Smoked that other guy in the Camero”, so don’t slow down too long driving through… No idea how to keep a Camel lit, though. Must smell sompthin awful ;-)


    “Watch out” as in ‘be fearful of’, or as in ‘watch out for one on sale’?

    I’m more inclined to do the ‘roll your own’ than buy commercial (something about being a few thousand dollars cheaper and exactly what I want…) but if the commercial ones “have issues” that would be good to know. Frankly, I like playing with power equipment and miss it.

    When I managed facilities, the power gear was my favorite stuff. We had 750 kVA feed to the Cray data center and 3 “motor generators” to turn it from 60 Hz to 400 Hz (so all the transformers would be smaller). Standby generators especially were fun.


    Part of why I’m eying they old Benz… There are 120 VAC alternators to retrofit to trucks / pickups for job site generators. I could fit one to the Benz and get a kW or two at high idle and have no “issues” with fuel storage nor with regulations. As my demand at night is ‘nearly nil’ and easily met by a battery box ( or just run off the mains for small stuff) I’d only really need to run the thing for about 8 hours a day. Frankly, depending on the net metering schedule and if they ‘pay well’ for peak power, I could get that 20 kW job for $4k and run it ONE hour / day to offset all my usage. Like the neighbor mowing their lawn. Do it about 11 am or 2 pm when most folks are at work and few are doing the backyard BBQ lunch and I doubt they’d even figure it out.

    It can easily be a ‘real solution’. I lived on a sail boat for about a year & 1/2 and it made it’s own power. So I’ve done it. The “second battery” would last through a weekend even if I didn’t go anywhere, but usually just a small motor out of the harbor and back (with sail in between) was enough. Stove was alcohol and worked very well. I have a portable inverter that lives in the car bag and I’ve run standby power systems for computer centers. Not as simple as just “flip the switch and pay the bill”, but less trouble than installing Microsoft Products on a laptop ;-)

    But yes, first step is eliminate the need (and cut down the size needed ‘someday’).

    FWIW we used to get nuclear power at a nickle …. It would be my preferred solution. But over regulation has eliminated the days of 5 cent nuclear here. Sigh.


    Ah, the Buddhism View. Be the empty vessel… misery comes from wanting what you do not have, so stop wanting… Yes, economies move in cycles. The classical business cycle was seen early on. Jevons (of Jevon’s Paradox fame that shows you can not conserve your way to lower consumption found after looking at large quantities of grain production data including that from the (then) colony of India that there was a strong correlation of prices and cycles with the solar cycle. Seems to be holding up even now.

    So we are “expecting at the data” of economics that things are going to roll down right when the solar driver has rolled down hard. No real surprise there.

    But modern economies are less driven by the agricultural sector than in the past. (We do still have a tendency to war that rises when food is scarce, though, so “we’ll see” is about all that can be said…) Right now it’s approaching 7 am, cold outside, and heavy overcast. In June. In California. Away from S.F. and not fog. Not your typical summer weather…

    Would we be happier to just accept what is and move on? Typically, yes. Will we? Typically no.

    And the wheel will turn another cycle…


    It’s a bit expensive, but this page has 2 very interesting items on it. The main item is a Carrier APU for long haul truckers. It creates 12 VDC for battery charging (60 amps), along with 120 VAC for appliances et. al. ( 4000 Watts), and both heat and Air Conditioning of about 10,000 BTU / hr. Not enough for a whole house at peak need, but enough for much of the time, and quite enough for a couple of bedrooms at night. Only downside is the costs is over $8,000

    So ‘this problem has been solved’ already, by truckers.

    There are other, larger, units used for “Refer Trucks”. They all run about $1 / BTU from what I’ve seen. My home being small and living in a place with mild climate, I couldn’t use all the heat / cold one of these makes. ( They pull a refer trailer down to -20 degrees…) so my major problem was finding something small enough. At 4 kW my “duty cycle” would be about 1:4 for electricity.

    Only real downsides I see would be noise ( 2 cycle Diesels are usually not quiet) and that I need heat mostly in the dead of night when electricity demand is minimum. OTOH, it makes Air Conditioning too, and that comes at peak electricity demand.

    All in all, it’s a pretty good “proof of concept” appliance.

    In the upper left (at least now) is an add for a discount / sale of a Kohler “Home Generator” that runs on natural gas. $4500 and 20 kW. That’s roughly 4 kW / $1000 or $500 / kW. Pretty darned cheap. If it is at all efficient, it will make electricity cheaply too. Get “net metering” and use it largely at peak times (so get the best price for the power) and it likely would make money. Link from the add is:

    Which has it’s own inset add for another Kohler. But pricier. 15 kW for a bit over $8000.

    If I had an AlGore kind of home, I’d be installing something like that…

  16. EFOY makes a fuel cell for RVs and camping. Runs on methanol.

  17. kakatoa says:

    In regards to capacity for the +3 to +6 sigma events that the folks responsible for the grid have to prepare for how about taping into the folks that have large capacity (via some form of back up power) for just such an occasion. There are a lot of hospitals, water treatment plants, etc. that could island their demand in no time if the powers that be would allow it to happen. Ref-

    I saw an interesting post over at “Tips and Notes” that sounds like a technology to keep an eye on-

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    Interesting gizmo, but not practical. 2000 pounds for a unit making 80 Ahrs? The largest one they make produces just over 2 kW-hrs per DAY. I’d need about 5 of them to get anything close to what I use. If they ever come down in price it would be great to have one for “camping” style uses ( i.e. not much power needed).


    Already happens. There are “load shedding agreements” with some large power users. So folks like an aluminum smelter may shut down refining during peak times. At a major local electronics company, we had large go-gen units to power the place during “outages”. Most of the time they took utility power to run things (at very low negotiated prices) in exchange for being “shed” during peak demand.

    Hospitals do a full ‘cut to generators’ about once a month just to prove it works, but are not good candidates for regular load shedding. You don’t want your ‘several days’ of emergency Diesel used up just as the quake hits and you need to run without power for a week…

  19. Jason Calley says:

    No rational plan survives long after contact with officialdom. True story. My son received an email from one of his friends in Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit. The area where the friend worked had suffered major grid damage, but being smart people in the IT business, they had their company in a building with good diesel backup and enough fuel to last for perhaps a week and a half — assuming, rationally, that the generator was only running during regular working hours. Little did they know that there was a governmental office in the same building. (I do not remember which federal agency it was, but it was one of the regulatory ones like EPA or OSHA or whatever. It was NOT an agency that required multishift around the clock functioning.) Anyway, the head of the agency complained to the building owners that it took too long for the air conditioning system to get their offices comfortable in the morning, and that they (the owners) WOULD make sure that the air conditioning (and hence the generator,) would remain on around the clock. Or else. So the building owners let the generator run 24 hours a day and in three or four days they were out of fuel. Everything shut down and everyone went home. The Feds got a paid vacation, and the private market workers lost a bunch of money, lost some work and lost some customers.

  20. DocMartyn says:

    If you have a swimming poor, that natural gas to electricity becomes very attractive; you could use all that waste heat to heat water and warm up your pool.

  21. Pingback: Thanks for the BBQ! | Musings from the Chiefio

  22. Bob Layson says:

    Ah but if too many eco sinners sin against Gaia then the Government will create the post of Generator Finder General with drones, helecopters and informers to assist him in his inquisition.

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    That is just great! Yes, things don’t change much with Progressives…

    @Jason Calley:

    I believe it. I’ve seen such quality of decision making from Those In Charge.


    That’s how our local school uses it. Anyone needing some added heat gets the electricity for free…

    @Bob Layson:

    Now you know why I have the “Mercedes and inverter” backup plan… In the limit case, I add a set of batteries in a box in the trunk, and a couple of oversized generators to the engine. Then a daily “trip to shopping” provides enough power to run the house ;-)

    All out of sight and with no detectible heat signature or noise. Once in the garage, the inverter powers selected parts of the circuits, so one still sees demand on things like washer motors…and minimal lighting. The “profile’ looks like someone conserving very nicely…

  24. Pascvaks says:

    shhhhhhhhhhh… they’re listening! Kaliforniastan is no different than Old East Germany in the Cold War, they’ll sell you out to the KBI for a pack of cigerettes or a pair of panty hose. Now, unless you were pulling our leg, you better start over with a different system and NOT tell anyone. Isn’t it strange how much like our old nemesis we’ve become. Strange how economics works;-)

  25. E.M.Smith says:


    The thing about “Emergent Systems” is that they are ALWAYS emerging new behaviours. That’s why government central control always fails. It can not have as much information as all the players in the economy and can not react as fast as the individuals in that economy. It is also blindsided by changes in other economies…

    So if any one ‘strategy’ gets a barrier, then another strategy comes to the front. I have seen (on Youtube) an automotive turbo charger turned into a jet turbine and running on gas from scrap wood in a barrel. I’ve made alcohol fuel from wood distillation. Heck, I could likely make an Aluminum / Air battery if I had to and turn all those soda cans into Watts…

    In the limit case you can just run things on fuel, not electricity. Rather like I’m doing now with the kitchen ( ’cause that’s what I do when someone / something makes me cranky at them… Don’t have to buy their product.) Put a fire pit / stove in the back yard (in approved format) with water pipe circulation. Run it through a water heater in the bedroom baseboards; Now they have to forbid all backyard fire pit / bbq / decorative fire place et. al. or just let me feed it my yard waste…

    So it simply doesn’t matter what “they” do. All it can do is accelerate the ‘end game’ where central planning breaks down in the face of emergent behaviors…

  26. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.: Just looking from the outside it is very easy to solve all the problems of your economy: Just disappear E.P.A. and send to concentration camps to all “green nuts”…
    Make the calculations, in four or five years you would become like…..China !!!

  27. Pascvaks says:

    EM- OK, so maybe you won’t have to go underground or hideout in the Sierra anytime too soon, just be careful, Jerry may look like a nut, sound like a nut, and think like a nut, but it’s still within the possibilities that he may not actually be a nut in all things, can’t imagine what that might be, but there’s always a possibility, I guess. Just be careful and don’t assume anything as long as you and your family are living inside the PRK. (Is it true he plans to build a Wall, if he gets a Federal Grant, around the state to put immigrants to work at union wages to keep immigrants out and comrades in;-)

    o/t – fyi – a little something in your backyard –
    New Study Rains On The Anthropogenic Climate Change Charade. Finds Decadal/Centennial-Scale Fluctuations, By P Gosselin on 9. Juni 2012
    (Cited Original Paper – A 9170-year record of decadal-to-multi-centennial scale pluvial episodes from the coastal Southwest United States: a role for atmospheric rivers?)

  28. kakatoa says:


    It looks like Solazyme (and Chevron) are getting closer to making biodiesel using algae to convert the biomass. After a few days of weed whacking I sure would like to be able to do something with the fruits of my labor vs letting the deer eat the grasses.

  29. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Pascvaks: About that study you cite: All proxies dating are wrong as cosmic radiation/ and other sources radiation has changed many times. Thus all these studies are but acceptable ways of surviving and feeding their families by the guys involved. Let us not consider ANY study being serious unless made by a private researcher and doing it at his/her own expenses, as it has been the case of EVERY real breakthrough in real Science until the II WW changed everything because of the deep politicization then.

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