Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. These days I'm retired, and I can't by law give you advice. While I do make mistakes, I try hard to do my analysis thoroughly, and to make sure my data are correct (old habits die hard!) Also, don't ask me why I called it "Volewica". It's too late, now.

BTW, clicking on most charts will produce the original-sized, i.e., bigger version.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Navel Gazing

This cartoon is about the utterly appalling Oz government of Captain Clownshoes.

See more Wilcox cartoons here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ted Cruz

It's utterly bizarro that the Republican party (and the right generally) is so convinced climate change/global warming is false.  Is it because they are funded by coal and oil companies?  Is it because they hate the very idea of collective action (except when they want to go to war)?  Is it because it's been the "tree-hugging", "latte-sipping" left which has pushed for action, and anything that the left does must be automatically opposed, whether it's right or not?

Ted Cruz, putting himself forward as a presidential candidate, is convinced (or pretends to be) that global warming is a furphy.  "For the last 17 years, there has been zero warming, none whatsoever."  And then he pointed out that it was snowing in New Hampshire.  Qu'il est idiot!

Read more here:

Stupid is as Ted Does.
Skiing on Dirt in Tahoe
Senator Cruz, member of the Snowball Faction of climate change denialists.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Peaking duck

This is a joke about the shape of the chart below, which shows the daily load in Caloundra, a town on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.  Note how each year the demand at midday is lower than the year before as more and more solar panels have been installed.  In the old days, peak demand was at midday.  Now the peak is at 6 pm as everybody gets home from work, puts on the kettle, turns on the air conditioner, etc.  As battery costs slide, it will become economical for users to install them to store power from midday to be released in the evening.  If the utilities go on raising network charges, it will pay ppl to do this and go "off-grid".  But even if the utilities don't raise network charges, it will still be profitable for individuals and businesses to install batteries and thus reduce their consumption of electricity, even if they remain connected to the grid.  And as less and less electricity is used, the cost of the grid per kW of sales rises, and so electricity rates have to rise leading to a death spiral doom loop.  Utilities have no idea how to deal with this inevitable development.

[Chart from this article]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wind variability

A common argument against renewables is that the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine all the time.  But in fact, as the chart below shows, if the wind turbines are sufficiently far enough apart, their output is not correlated.  Which means that the power from, say, two separated wind turbine farms is on average stable.  Note that this applies at short and long time periods.  So for example, at an average of 5 minutes' worth of output, wind turbines 100 kms apart are entirely uncorrelated.  At an average of 12 hours' output, turbines 100 kms apart are significantly correlated, but those 600 kms apart are only slightly correlated.

This means that a series of wind farms across a large geographical range can provide a stable source of power.  In effect they can provide baseload power.

The same would apply to solar, but less than with wind because obviously everywhere in a region is dark pretty much the same time at night, so the solar panels would need to be hundreds of kms apart (east/west) to provide power at different times.  But on a short term basis, there may be clouds over my panels but not over yours 10 kms away.  And there is also the situation that the wind and sunshine are not correlated: in fact, I have seen some analysis that says they are negatively correlated, because when the sun isn't shining (say during a thunderstorm), the wind is blowing.  So the output of wind and solar together is more stable than either by itself.

None of this will obviate the need for storage, but what it does mean is that the utility industry's fears that even 5% renewables input into the grid would lead to grid instability is wrong.  Many regions are now above 40% renewables with perfectly stable grids;Spain, Denmark, the state of South Australia.  Which means in turn that even before battery costs decline enough to make mass storage viable, we could still go to 40% renewables everywhere, allowing CO2 emissions to decline.

[Read the original article here]

Update:  a commenter in the Guardian suggested that to allow for the variability you would have to have too many wind turbine farms for it to be cost-effective.  Not so.  Let us suppose that wind farms produce 25% of nameplate capacity (it varies between 20% and 60%).  Now this is already included in the cost estimates: the cost of the wind farm is spread across the electricity generated over 20 years, which takes the capacity factor into account.  Note that capacity factors for wind turbines are variable day to day and week to week but very stable year to year.   So if we have two wind farms, both with a capacity factor of 25%, the average for both together is still 25%.  But the variability of the combined output is halved, if their output is non-correlated, which it would be if they're more than 500 kms apart.    Add a third, also 500 kms away from the others and variability falls again, but average output doesn't (assuming of course that the capacity factor is the same for all of them).  So in other words, wind power from enough wind farms far enough apart can provide base power.  And since wind is now the cheapest source of power, it seems demented not to start switching, given the risks of global warming.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


The cartoon refers to The Cane Toad's designed-to-annoy comment that remote-community Aborigines live there for "lifestyle" reasons.

What a doos.

[See more Broelmans here]

100 watt light bulb

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tea Party loons

In Florida, likely to be subject to even worse floods in future, the Tea Party Republican administration forbade their staff from using the phrases 'climate change', 'global warming' and 'sea level rise' in all official emails, letters and publications.  'Sea level rise' is to be referred to as 'nuisance flooding'!


Read more here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

When good is bad

US employment data for February continued the strengthening trend of the last year, despite incredibly cold weather over much of the eastern US and incredibly warm weather/drought over the rest of the country.  The highest increase in a decade, if you ignore the short-lived spike when the US Federal Government hired a couple of hundred thousand temporary workers to take the ten-year census in 2010.

The US share market fell. But hang on, surely if times are good and getting better, surely the market should have gone up?  Well, no.  Because the stockmarket is a resultant (thinking of vector algebra here) of earnings, confidence and interest rates.  And this strength in employment suggests that interest rates in the US will start to rise soon.  For 6 years, the central bank discount rate (the "Fed Funds" rate) has been near zero, as the Fed tried to get economic growth going again after the GFC.  And a rule of thumb is that a "neutral" discount rate/cash rate should be roughly equal to nominal GDP growth,  which in the US over the last year has been around 4% per annum.  A stimulatory rate would be below nominal GDP growth, a contractionary rate above it.  After strong stimulus, it is now necessary to raise interest rates to prevent future asset price bubbles and rising inflation. What these strong data suggested was that the probability of that happening has risen.

Now, it may happen that interest rates can rise (slowly!) but earnings may rise too, in which case the stockmarket will go sideways or even up.  This often happens in the middle of an economic recovery.  But later on in the recovery, earnings growth becomes harder to achieve, and the annual increases in profits slip.   If interest rates start rising then, PE compression ( a falling price-earnings ratio) overwhelms the rise in earnings, and the market falls. In addition, in the case of the US share market, a big chunk (25%, 30%?) of profits are generated abroad (think of all the multinationals which dominate the Dow and the S&P)   And since the US is so out of phase with the rest of the world, where interest rates won't be rising any time soon, the US$ is soaring, reducing foreign profits when they are converted to US$.  The market isn't going to be rescued by a rise in earnings.

So this may mark the peak in the current bull market run in the US.   I don't think the fall will be substantial, but I do believe it will qualify as a "bear market", traditionally 20% or more.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cost of 3 kW solar system in OZ

This is the cost of the panels.  The cost of the electricity produced would have fallen pro rata.

This is why coal is finished.  This is why the world will move to reduce emissions at the Paris conference in November/December later this year.  Not just because global warming is real and terrifying, but because the costs of the alternative are lower than existing power sources, even without a carbon tax/cap-and-trade.  With them, solar will sweep away coal.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Causes of death in Oz

Our malign and loathsome government has picked on "terrorism" to try and lift its poll ratings. Now tell me, why would you pick on that, when there are other much more serious causes of death?  Why reduce and remove our freedoms for something which isn't even in the top ten causes of death in Australia?  Why?

{and note, that's terrorism deaths from 1978, not 2003, which are the data for all the others)

The Cane Toad

With any luck, our loathsome PM, Tony Abbott, alias the Cane Toad or Captain Clownshoes, will soon be gone.  It's telling when even a former Liberal PM (Liberal in Oz = right-wing) finds Captain Clownshoes too much.