Utility company execs see electricity rates rising

In a study by the construction firm Black & Veatch, utility executives see electricity rates rising:

Over 90% of the executives surveyed believe that rules requiring the use of more renewable energy and a cut in pollution from coal-fired power plants will lead to higher monthly utility bills for consumers.

Over half said these bills will rise significantly.

No definition of “slightly” or “significantly” was provided in the study. But Black & Veatch said “slightly” in industry parlance usually means a 1% to 3% increase, while significantly could mean up to 10% or so.

The executives surveyed also believe that the new rules on hydraulic fracturing will not cause a significant increase in natural gas prices. Continue reading

Fuelmaker Becomes a More Viable Option

BRC Headquarters in Chisiamo, Italy

Many longtime dabblers in the home-fill CNG market have feelings about Fuelmaker products that border on visceral hatred.

In the past customers have had to deal with indifferent quality control, price gouging, insanely restrictive sales policies and a customer service manner that had the same sort charm and efficiency that might have marked the Moscow Driver’s Licence Bureau during the Brezhnev era.

This guaranteed that anyone who owned a Fuelmaker product was going to pay dearly for that fact in every way the company could invent. Some have said that the only people who willingly bought a Fuelmaker were those who weren’t skilled enough to adapt a Coltri or some other high pressure air compressor to fill their CNG tanks.

However Fuelmaker has come under Italian ownership in recent years. BRC corporation purchased the assets of Fuelmaker in May of 2009. It’s taken a couple of years to bring sanity to Fuelmaker, but BRC has changed some of its pricing and policies recently, and that change is for the better. While it could be argued that the changes are not wholly altruistic, but rather have been produced by a shaky Italian economy hungry for paying business coupled with the fact that everybody and his uncle is clamoring to enter the CNG compressor market. We at the CNG Times don’t particularly care what caused this volte-face. We are simply pleased that it has happened.

The price of the FMQ-2-3600 home fill unit (.9 gge/hour when it’s in a good state of repair) has dropped significantly. So has the price of wear items like fill hoses.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the dreaded 4,000-hour-blue-screen-of-death has been dropped altogether. Formerly a Fuelmaker product would shut down without warning when the internal timer hit 4,000 hours. You had to uninstall the unit (or have it uninstalled) and ship it to a rebuilder. Now Fuelmaker will let them run beyond 4,000 hours. The compressor will continue to run until it fills so slowly that the customer is ready to send it in.

Another significant change is that the compressor heads will no longer be rebuilt. These are now consumable items. They are replaced with brand new heads, and the old ones are destroyed in the presence of a factory representative in order to insure that no black market for used heads ever develops. The cost of the head plus replacement? $1600 plus shipping, according to the information we were able to glean. That, too, is a sharp drop in price.

There’s still some improvements to make. We’re still stuck with the policy which says that only a Fuelmaker dealer can install the unit, and if he has to drive seven hours to get to your house, you’re going to have to pay him for the 14 hours of drive time plus the installation. Like most Europeans, the new owners of Fuelmaker don’t really seem to comprehend the vastness of this country. Some of Fuelmaker’s best potential customers are 500-600 miles (800-960 kilometers) from an authorized dealer. Would they really expect a customer in Frankfurt to pay for a technician to drive up from Rome to install a compressor? Yet that is precisely the situation facing the U.S. market. That makes an already expensive item prohibitively expensive. That is killing sales for the company, and the sooner they realize that, the better it will be for all involved.

In reality there is no need for this policy. Any licensed HVAC technician can easily install a Fuelmaker unit with a little bit of training and a modest investment in equipment. A better strategy going forward would be to allow the regional dealers to keep their sales business, but develop training seminars and a network of licensed local installers. Couple that with consumer financing or an aggressive leasing program, and Fuelmaker could do very, very well in the U.S. market. Under such a regime, dealers could easily make up in sales volume what they would lose in installation labor.

Having said that, the new policies are a giant step in the right direction. We at the CNG Times salute BRC for making these important and substantive changes.

What the world most needs now, in this era of $100+ oil, is cheaper natural gas compression. What we need most is a “Model T Ford” CNG compressor. What is required is a CNG compressor that, like the Tin Lizzie, is not very sophisticated or particularly powerful, but is reliable and within reach of the common person. Whoever captures that market will be positioned to become a powerhouse in the global refueling market for the next century.  BRC has made some significant strides towards that goal. Ben fatto, BRC!

Krugman: We’re Already In Another Great Depression

You can feel it in the air. There is a growing sense of unease and even fear. People talk about it in coffee shops and while they’re waiting in line at the post office. Mention the price of gasoline and diesel fuel and you see something in their eyes that’s part anger, part fear, and part resignation.

People are starting to realize that the economy is very bad and isn’t going to get much better anytime soon.

Economist Paul Krugman says that the world is not heading for another Great Depression, we’re already in one. See the video here:

Krugman: We Are Already In A New Great Depression

Krugman notes that the “massive public spending” that was generated by WWII is what ended the Depression. He has been very vocal in his calls to ignore the debt levels right now in favor of government stimulus programs to attempt to jumpstart the economy.

I agree that we are in another Great Depression. I also believe that a war, even a world war, is (unfortunately) very possible before this depression ends. However, I believe there is a better way to end it than more Cash for Clunkers-type programs and more student loans. Those types of programs, which are an article of faith among Keynesian economists, have not been shown to actually solve anything in the long term.  Organic economic growth is what brings nations out of recessions and depressions. Despite the best of intentions the government is not very good at generating organic economic growth. Most of the time governments are very good at stifling organic economic growth instead.

There is a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve sticking our granchildren with the debts we run up today. There literally is no more crucial issue to a nation’s progress than its energy and transportation economics.

What if we overhauled and redeveloped our energy production and distribution networks? Smart electric grids, wind generation, and solar can certainly be helpful, but America needs a transportation fuel source that’s cheap, clean, abundant. If it could be produced domestically for a very low price, that would be almost ideal.

We have one. Natural gas. Vehicles have been running on natural gas in places like Argentina and Pakistan for decades. If the economics of natural gas make sense in a third world country, they make sense here, too.

If the government would remove or restrain the hindrances of unnecessary regulations, and let Americans innovate unhampered by bureaucratic meddling and nest feathering, philosophical tyrannies, and political gamesmanship, we could rebuild America. We could fundamentally change the energy and transportation economics of our nation, and perhaps of our world.

Think of all that would need to be done. Pipelines would need to be laid, fueling stations would need to be built. Equipment would need to be manufactured to meet all of these needs. Other infrastructure would also need to be built. New dedicated natural gas and bi-fuel vehicles would roll off assembly lines in Detroit.  Older vehicles would need to be converted to run on natural gas (and almost any vehicle can be made to run on natural gas.) New businesses would spring up overnight to begin building and installing all of these things.

Those are good jobs. Those sorts of jobs pay good wages and are dignified work that a man or a woman can be proud of. Those are jobs that generate wealth and allow a person to prosper and care for his or her family.

T. Boone Pickens has estimated that if we convert 20% of the vehicles on the road to run on natural gas, we wouldn’t have to buy another drop of OPEC oil. We could stop spending so much time, treasure, and geopolitical capital trying to keep the oil flowing from the Middle East unhindered. We could trim our military budget and bring our service men and women home to their families.

Natural gas is certainly not without its costs and drawbacks. Nothing is perfect. But it is a very, very good way to rebuild our country. We can beat the Second Great Depression, and we can do it with natural gas.

F250 Powerstroke Natural Gas Conversion Project Pt. 4

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3

Now that the bed mounted conversion kit is installed and the hot water and vapor lines are all run, it’s time to install the high pressure stainless steel tubing that brings the gas from the tank to the conversion kit.

Swagelok compression fitting

In some ways this is the most difficult part of the conversion because of the high pressure compression fittings. They are expensive, and it’s possible to install them incorrectly and ruin the little self swaging crush-sealing ferrules. If you ruin the ferrule it can be replaced, but it’s not something you can run down to Autozone and pick up. It has to come from a company that deals with high pressure fittings. I’m in a small town in the upper Midwest, and my nearest retail outlet for these fittings is over 500 miles away. So if you goof one up, and you didn’t purchase extras (always a good idea) then your project is on hold until you get more ferrules. It’s best to order some extras when you buy your fittings.

There are three U.S. based companies that I know of who manufacture these fittings: Swagelok, Duolok, and Parker. There are also several foreign companies, mostly Chinese. Due mostly to the way I went about acquiring my fittings, I’ve got a mixture of brands. Some of mine are Swagelok, some of mine are of Chinese manufacture with no discernible markings telling me who the manufacturer is, and one is by a Chinese company called Li Feng Lok. Continue reading

F250 Powerstroke Natural Gas Conversion Project Pt. 3

Click here to read Part 1 and here to read part 2.

Keep in mind you don’t have to make the type of rack for your tanks that I have made if you don’t want to.  You could go with slightly smaller tanks and mount them under the truck along the frame rail, or you could mount them to the bed floor. I did mine this way because I wanted lots of fuel capacity and lots of attention. You should be able to get 16-20 gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) worth of storage under most full sized pickups, and about 10 gge if you simply mounted a short, fat tank across the front of the bed like a toolbox. 10 gge doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind that you’re burning both natural gas and diesel. You’ll get between 40-50 mpg out of each gallon of diesel and about 25 mpg out of each gge of natural gas. So if you get a good, full fill on a 10 gge tank, that’s about 250 miles of driving before the gas runs out and the engine begins running on diesel only again.

Having fabricated my rack to hold my CNG tank, I drilled 13 holes all over my bed rail and floor in order to secure the rack and the tank into the bed of the pickup with grade 8 bolts.  I also spot welded three of the six pieces of sheetmetal to the rack.  The next time I do this, I’m going to get thinner sheetmetal.  I really went overboard on this part. It’s hard to cut with a disc-type cutter and it adds a lot of unnecessary weight.

Fortunately I’ve got an DHC 2000 (formerly the Henrob 2000, formerly the Cobra) torch which welds like a TIG and cuts like a plasma cutter. It does make nice, straight cuts once you learn how to use it.  Yes, it really works. Watch the videos on the website. I like TIG welding with this better than I like TIG welding with a TIG welder because I don’t have any tungstens to stick in the weld puddle that I then have to stop, re-dress, and sharpen.  So, yes, you should get one. But no, it’s not necessary to have one to convert your pickup to CNG.

My first attempt at cutting looked like I used an angry beaver to cut the metal.  After some fiddling and some adjustments to the regulator I got a slightly more respectable result. Continue reading

An Update On the Status of the NatGas Act

Courtesy of Lawrence MacDonald and DC Tripwire

Bottom Line: The NAT GAS Act is expected to easily pass the House, where it has broad support from Members on both sides of the aisle. Challenges remain before the bill becomes law, however, the most significant of which is the determination of an acceptable pay-for, i.e. revenue raiser or spending cut to offset the tax subsidies provided in the bill. But with continued high gasoline prices and the American public demanding action, it may be that the time is finally right to send this legislation to the President’s desk. While its path through the House looks easy though, its prospects in the Senate are murkier, as it has been stymied in the Senate once before. Thus, companies which benefit from the tax benefits that would be derived form the NAT GAS Act — such as makers of fleet-based natural gas vehicles — could continue to ride a wave of high expectations as the bill winds its way through the House, but such expectations could run into a wall in the Senate. Continue reading

F250 Powerstroke Natural Gas Conversion Project Pt. 1

Diesel pickup owners have a natural gas option right now.  You can convert your turbodiesel Ford, Chevy, or Dodge to run on a mixture of between 50% and 75% natural gas.  Your diesel mileage should be 40 mpg or better.  We’re going to walk you step by step through the conversion of a 2002 F250 4×4 Powerstroke over the coming weeks. Continue reading


Amirita Sen from Barclays


Here’s a fairly alarming prediction heading into the seasonally strong winter months for oil prices. Amrita Sen, commodities analyst at Barclays was interview on CNBC recently to discuss the outlook for energy prices and to shed some light as to why oil prices have diverged from many other commodities and remained so firm in the face of severe global headwinds. Sen says the likelihood of prices falling much below current levels is close to nil:

“It’s been the supply side. Libya went off the market. Lots of problems in the North Sea. Brazil, I mean, there were problems everywhere. Inventories Are about are about 50 million below the seasonal average heading into the winter. There is no way prices can fall much from where they are now. You just don’t have enough inventories around.”

Not a good sign for the economy. Cost push inflation via rising energy prices is likely to continue to be a major headwind in the future. Real resources continue to hinder economic growth. Like the last few years, this is going to be a major risk heading into 2012.

See the full interview here. It’s quite good: