Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Natural Gas and Windpower

Jim Cramer Blog
Wind Is the Future, but Nat Gas Is Here Now
By Jim Columnist8/6/2008 12:21 PM

The attacks on T. Boone Pickens' plans -- everything from his integrity and self-interest to his quixotic nature -- just make no sense whatsoever. They hold no water at all. They are just wrong-headed. The people against him, the ones that call him a dreamer, are the ones who have done no homework and are deeply cynical. And if they don't keep their mouths shut, we will forever be addicted to foreign oil.

While much of what he has been saying is that wind power can be substituted for a lot of other power sources, the fundament of his plan is to get autos to be using natural gas. Put aside his interests -- believe me, he cares about them, but only so far as he has been the investor in alternative energy for years and thinks it can be profitable -- Pickens' true motivation is that the technology for what he wants to have happen is occurring right now. In fact, he reminds me of the visionaries at Intel (INTC) who saw that the power of a mainframe IBM (IBM) computer could be put in the size of a pen -- a legendary presentation by Intel founder Robert Noyce that was widely scoffed at but all came true.

Let's review the alleged pie-in-the-sky elements of Pickens' plan. First, wind power, which is clean and efficient and able to be integrated to the grid much more easily than the critics say -- ask Quanta (PWR) , which does it -- and can be used in far more than just Texas. We are blessed with windy areas that have no use otherwise, and you can build cheap towers, turbines and blades without much opposition. That's the opposite of the now darling technology -- nuclear -- which really has no hope in this country because of siting difficulties and NIMBY. We have the technology, we have the raw ingredients, we have the abilities, we could take wind to 20% of our power by 2030, as the Department of Energy says, but we could cut 10 years from that with subsidies.

It is natural gas, though, that is the great conundrum, the great game-changer that few politicians and most pundits just don't get at all. The critics, like this Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal, simply haven't done any research. They are using data and facts from 2003 and the industry has changed, changed to the point that the information from five years ago is valueless.

This is where the Noyce analogy comes in.

Every nat gas oil engineer and exec in the world knows that we have had 100 years' worth of natural gas underground in this country domestically -- not off the coasts, but within our borders.

And it has been totally inaccessible until five years ago. That's when drillers basically invented a new way to drill that makes it easy to get this gas out. It gets easier to get at every day, which is why you keep hearing about all of these "shales" that have gigantic finds -- just go look at Devon's (DVN) numbers today if you don't believe me. Look at the drilling! Look at the drilling that Chesapeake (CHK) is doing. I believe 100 years of nat gas -- which is two-thirds cleaner than oil including on the CO2 side, which is the most toxic pollutant -- is conservative.

So when you look at this fuel, you realize it should be used instead of gasoline as soon as possible. It is abundant, cheap, there are pipelines everywhere, it doesn't need to be refined, and it burns clean. What's lacking? Filling stations and cars. But not the technology for either, just the infrastructure.

Because of its newfound abundance, nat gas would be about half of the price of gasoline, which means that the payback for these new cars is quick. The opposite of SUVs.

Now, consider this positive that isn't being talked about enough: In Argentina, one-seventh of the cars run on natural gas. GM (GM) developed nat gas-compatible cars years ago, but because there were no filling stations and questionable reserves, the cars didn't take off. Remember, reserve worries, before horizontal drilling, were so great that Alan Greenspan held hearings on nat gas availability not that long ago.

Since then, though, we have solved the "questionable reserves" issue in spades. We have the distribution capacity, just not the filling stations. If you were Exxon (XOM) or BP (BP) you would build in the filling stations anticipating the coming surge here. If you were one of these ridiculous automakers, you would quickly put these cars on the drawing board -- right now there are kits to do it, and fleets already use it for buses and taxis in cities -- to meet the anticipated demand.
Of course, the politicians don't even know we have the abundance, hence the frustrating appearance by Chesapeake's Aubrey McClendon on Capitol Hill last week, where most lawmakers were amazed about the newfound abundance, one that doesn't need government subsidies or divisive votes by Democrats and Republicans.

In fact, the only real opponents of this fuel are the chemical companies that fear nat gas price increases, something pretty ridiculous given the abundance and the ability to import the stuff. That's the least of the problems we should worry about.

Wind and nat gas are the ways of the future, with nat gas the important bridge fuel for the next 20 years. We are so much closer to energy independence with cleaner energy than we have any time ever, but nobody cares, except the visionaries, the Noyces of this business: Boone Pickens and Aubrey McClendon.

I think it is only a matter of time before the cynics understand this (and I am not even including the peak power possibilities of thin-filmed base solar energy from First Solar (FSLR) , which is also using an Intel model to drive down the cost of industrial panels).

This future is here. It is investible and here.

[Hey, and if we support all this drilling and infrastructure and investment, can we do it with sensitivity to the environment as well? It's not, and CAN NEVER BE, just about energy. It's about outlook. To me, this article is only half complete, or, half of the story we are force fed by media and our own pipe dreams about the state of our culture and society. There's more here--about deep presence in the world around us, about overcoming our pain and lack as human beings, about not letting our anguish over our internal battles be manifested violently outwards, and about seeing EVERYTHING as equal, connected, necessary, inspiring, worth teaching us how to be less human and, in that way, more human than we'd ever imagined.]


James Golden said...

When I saw the movie "There Will Be Blood," I thought there was no point to it. But the point was so clear, I had missed it. The single-minded thirst for oil was just a metaphor for our need to suck not just oil out of the earth, but money out of other people, marrow out of bone, life out of the living; and the violent end of that movie presages what may be our future. Now we want to drill on the outer continental shelf for the last drops of oil, without concern for the needs of those to come after us, or for the large environmental cost for such little benefit. We continue to break the world instead of trying to heal it.

Benjamin Vogt said...

James--You hit the nail on the head. Can't say it better than you. Maybe it's our fate to break the world... maybe such a complex, evolved / designed species can do nothing less. Maybe this breaking is part and parcel of being human. God, I hope not. I don't really believe it, but when one is awash in doubt and sadness, even the hope of words can do little to curb reality.

By the way, I really enjoyed the just absolutely stunning images of your spread posted on your blog. Incredible. Breathtaking. I picked up a rudbeckia maxima this weekend, and many more liatris and such sundries are on their way for my clay this fall.

IlonaGarden said...

Thank you for posting this- otherwise I would have completely missed it, altho I like to keep abreast of energy/alternative news.

I totally agree with you about how our perspective is made up and skewed by what we are fed. But we are the new media... voices small but numerous. I hope by linking to your post to spread the voice that seems to be so easily drowned by fear and those who pander to it.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Ilona--Small but numerous, I like that. Small but numerous is what gets it done, imho. So much good can happen for our country if open our eyes and get just a bit dirty. And have faith.

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