Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Tesla Motors’

Electric Cars and “Renewable Green Energy” as Virtue Signalling Scams

August 25, 2019 9 comments

As some of you might have heard, the autistic girl promoted by globalists aka Greta Thunberg is making news for taking an ultramodern yacht to cross the Atlantic and publicly demonstrate her commitment to a supposedly “zero carbon” lifestyle. Just do that you know, most of her handlers and promoters are flying to NYC. Any ya.. once her fake sanctimonious speeches in NYC are over, she too will quietly fly back to Sweden. While I could write a lot more about how this delusional and mentally-ill girl is being promoted as the face of environmental activism, it is best to leave that for another time. Instead I will talk about how electric cars and “renewable green energy” are nothing more than virtue signalling scams. Yes.. you heard that, they are scams.

Readers might remember that I have written a (still ongoing) series about how anthropogenic climate change is a form of secular apocalypticism. Some might also remember my thoughts on Tesla Motors being an image driven scam. This is not say that electric automobiles are somehow impossible. Indeed, electric vehicles with performance equivalent to their internal combustion powered equivalents have been technologically feasible since the late 1990s. My objection to the popular delusion that the future of automobiles being electric is based on factors other than technological feasibility. To put it very briefly, the electrochemistry which underlies rechargeable battery technology puts an upper limit on the amount of energy stored by this method.

Long story short, the amount of energy stored in carbon-carbon or carbon-hydrogen bonds (fossil fuels) will always be at least a magnitude greater than that possible with an battery utilizing the most optimal electrochemistry. But that, by itself, is not the Achilles heel of electric automobiles. As you know, it is easy to build electric vehicles with pretty decent performance using currently available battery technology. The far bigger and related problem is as follows: how do you get all that lithium, cobalt etc to build batteries on a large enough scale to displace internal combustion engine powered vehicles. This becomes tricky rather quickly, even if we assume better than 95% recycling of all metals used in such batteries. Then there is the issue of obtaining enough of those pesky lanthanides aka ‘rare earth elements’ for their electric motors.

But the electric car scam gets truly exposed once you consider how the electricity used to power and recharge it is generated. As things stand today and in near future, most of that electricity is going to come from coal/gas fueled power stations. Some will come from hydroelectric or nuclear powered stations. My point is that only a small minority of the power used to recharge those vehicles is going to come from “renewable energy sources”. In other words, using electric cars instead of normal ones merely shifts the location where carbon fuels are being burnt, not the amount. And it gets worse. Let me ask you another related question. How big is the “carbon footprint” of the industrial and transportation infrastructure necessary to build, install and maintain all those solar cells and windmills? Are you starting to see the problem?

And it just keeps on getting worse. Ever wondered why hydroelectric power has long been the dominant way to generate renewable energy? Well, think about it this way.. the amount of water which flow through a river, while varying from season to season, is reasonably constant over a period of several decades. Furthermore, it can be easily stored for future use, and over multiple years. To make another long story short, generating a constant and predicable amount of power is far easy if your source of renewable energy is water rather than wind or sunshine. The same is true for power plants using coal, oil, gas or nuclear fission. In contrast to this, the two most touted sources of “green energy”, namely wind flow and sunshine, are fickle and dependent on weather.

Do you think it is possible to run massive power grids based on the whims of weather? Some will say- why not build “green energy” power plants with.. say.. 10x the capacity you need? Well for starters, it starts becoming far more expensive and maintenance intensive than conventional power plants. But more importantly, building even 10x capacity doesn’t give you the same level of confidence in power grid stability as conventional power plants have been known to provide for many decades. Imagine running an electric grid which will fail on a massive scale at least a few times per year and during extreme weather events when such power is necessary. But couldn’t we store this energy?

Well.. sure, we can store energy from fickle sources and release it in a more gradual manner. But doing so introduces even more complications. Building huge rechargeable batteries of any known electrochemistry is expensive and they not as reliable as many want to believe. To make matter worse, if that is possible, their malfunctions can be far more catastrophic and harder to repair than is the case for conventional peak power plants. The other way to store excess energy or moderate its fluctuations involves the use of pumped storage. While this particular technology is very mature and routinely used in hydroelectric plants for providing extra juice for certain times of the day, constructing such an installation requires certain topographical features in addition to lots of water. In other words, you can’t set them up in most locations.

But what about a “smart” grid? Wouldn’t having a “smart and connected” grid solve the problem? Well.. not really. Leaving aside the part where you actually have to first possess enough energy to distribute it properly, there is the issue of whether these “smart” grids are robust enough to deliver power without massive and frequent failures. You don’t have to a genius to figure out that anything connected to a large network or the internet can and will be hacked. And even if does not get hacked, a “smart” grid is far more sensitive to cascading failures due to component malfunctions than your old-fashioned “dumb” grid. Of course, you can always use coal, gas, nuclear and hydropower plants for generating the base load and backup. But then, how much “renewable green energy” are you actually using and more importantly- WHY?

If your use of “green energy” is not sufficient to reduce your sins.. I mean carbon dioxide output.. by over 80%, what is the point of spending all that money on building and maintaining these white elephants? Did I mention the part where most countries in Asia and Africa do not go much further than giving lip service to the cause of “renewable green energy”. Yes.. you heard that right. For all the noise the leaders of some developing countries make about “green energy”, when push comes to shove they simply build more conventional power plants. For them, “green energy” is, at best, a way to provide some peak energy and keep a few more people employed.

Electric cars and “green energy” are solutions in search of a problem which does not exist. Sure, they have some good niche applications. For example, using electric cars in densely populated cities would certainly improve air quality. Similarly using solar panels to augment peak power usage for air-conditioning and refrigeration in warm countries with lots of sunshine makes sense. But let us not pretend that people are going to give up a comfortable life to perform penance.. I mean, pay much more and get far less.. to please the insatiable gods of environmentalism. Moreover, attempting to do so via rules and regulations is guaranteed to piss of the majority and result in the election of more right-wingers nutcases such as Trump.

What do you think? Comments?

My Thoughts on the Systemic Scam Underlying Tesla Motors: 2

June 30, 2018 38 comments

In my previous post in this series, I made the point that there many similarities between the overall career trajectories of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk than most want to acknowledge. Based on the comments section of that post, it appears that some of you think that comparing a now-disgraced con artist with your favorite secular prophet du jour is unfair. Some of you might also think that Theranos, unlike SpaceX or Tesla Motors, was a complete con-job based on an unsound idea and totally fabricated results. The reality, however, is far more complex and nuanced.

But before we go there, let us talk about another facet of the almost uniquely american scam known as a technology based startup based in, or around, Silly Valley. To be more specific, let us focus on the type of people who start or are the public face of such corporations. I recently came across an interesting article which made an argument about entrepreneurship in USA that I also made in the past. To summarize, the article says that all entrepreneurs who achieve any lasting level of success in USA are scammers and con-artists who just got really lucky.

In other words, all those Silly Valley entrepreneurs constantly promoting their “disruptive” and “innovative” product or service “which will change the world” are just scam artists who have found the right elevator pitch, facial mannerisms and organisational image to sell to gullible fanboys and cynical banksters who will lend them other people’s money. Being a successful entrepreneur in USA is now almost exclusively about having the right image and sales pitch in addition to pushing emotional buttons in rubes rather than delivering even a fraction of what was promised.

To be fair, none of this is really new and american rubes have been enthusiastically buying snake oil of all types since the nation was founded. What is, however, different now is that real world technological progress (as in improvement) has stalled for at least a decade (and more) in many fields. Don’t believe me? Look at trends in life-expectancy (even for the super-rich), increasingly crappy quality of your smartphone and laptop, the almost complete lack of any major medical advance (to treat common diseases) for well over a decade.. I could keep go on.

This combination of very obvious (if largely unspoken) technological stagnation combined with sequelae of 2008 financial crisis has drained public faith from most american institutions. It is also partially the reason why Trump was elected in 2016. Another consequence of this (richly deserved) loss of faith in traditional institutions is that any slick con-man or con-woman with some TED-Talker skills can successfully start a new corporate cult. Even recycled scam sellers, such as Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich, can make tons of money and gather an army of “followers”. And those two are not even the worst offenders of their sub-genre.

So how is the scam perpetrated by somebody like Elizabeth Holmes, Elon Musk or any other Silly Valley CEO different from the dietary supplements and self-help books hawked by Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich. Well.. for starters, Silly Valley scams are based around a core of truth or plausibility. For example, lithium-ion battery based electric cars with decent performance have been feasible since late 1990s, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was abusing its rocket launch monopoly in USA by charging outrageous rates and advancements in medical diagnostic technology have reduced the specimen size necessary conducting each test.

It is therefore reasonable to start corporations to explore development and commercialization of better electric cars, cheaper rocket launchers and diagnostic tests which are faster and can use a smaller specimen size (or volume). So what makes Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Theranos scams rather than somewhat respectable businesses? Well.. as I have said in previous posts, it comes down to the dreams they are selling to their fanboys and investors. For example, SpaceX would be a perfectly normal business if it promoted itself as a launch company with cost-competitive rocket launchers. But that is not what its public image and market valuation are based on.

Instead the market valuation of SpaceX is based on believing their hilarious claims about lunar tourism, colonization of mars and monopolizing the global space launch market. To put it another way, they are selling a series of highly implausible dreams. Similarly, as I mentioned in previous post of this series that, Tesla Motors public image in USA and stock valuation are based on the belief that it will displace Toyota, GM, Hyundai etc as the premier and other dominant automobile manufacturer in the world. It also presupposes that electric cars will somehow magically replace gasoline/diesel cars throughout the world, within the next 15 years. If you don’t believe me, have a look at market valuation of automobile manufacturers (including Tesla Motors) versus the number of vehicles they sell per year.

But what does any of this have to do with the saga of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. As it turn out.. a lot. The idea underlying Theranos, namely miniaturizing medical diagnostic tests such that they require very small amounts of blood or other bodily fluids, is fairly reasonable. In fact, some technologies that it was trying to incorporate into its own system has been previously shown to work well- perhaps not well enough or with very small volumes- but work well enough to merit further development. The problem with Elizabeth Holmes, her ‎Svengali (Ramesh Balwani), and the upper management of that company was that they over-promised to the point where they could not deliver anything close to what they promised.

It did not help that they apparently had an insufficient grasp of the technological aspects of whatever they were trying to promote. To make matters worse, they tried to scam their way out of this self-inflicted disaster by doing a variety of illegal things- from using diagnostic systems from other manufacturers to make it appear that their own system worked, abusing and threatening their employees and a whole lot more. But more importantly, through all of this Elizabeth Holmes continued peddling the scam under the guise of “female empowerment”, dressing like the next Steve Jobs, speaking in a fake voice and much more.

Curiously (or not), she had no trouble finding tons of rich, famous and allegedly smart people who were willing to invest millions and billions in her scam. Theranos started to implode only after it became too obvious that she pulling an enormous scam. Even then, many of her rich financial backers kept expressing confidence in her abilities. So what was the reason behind the now divergent fates of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk. Well.. in my opinion, Elon Musk got lucky because he built his companies around ideas which could survive a quick back-of envelope calculation.

Electric cars with decent performance and relatively inexpensive RP-1/LOX rocket launchers were either already feasible or mature technology for at least a few years before he started Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Elizabeth Holmes, on the other hand, tried to pull of a scam in an area which lacked a similar base of proven technology. She chose poorly and was unlucky. But make no mistake- their main business model was, and still is, selling people and investors on their dreams of “technological disruption, “unlimited profits” and “market monopolization”. And that is why Elizabeth Holmes is an unlucky female version of Elon Musk.

What do you think? Comments?

My Thoughts on the Systemic Scam Underlying Tesla Motors: 1

June 23, 2018 41 comments

As regular readers know, I have previously written a couple of posts (link 1, link 2) on the fraud underling SpaceX’s claims of “disrupting” and “revolutionizing” the space launcher industry. To summarize the gist of both posts, my issues with their business model are largely centered on the hilariously optimistic claims made by them about future prospects for basically unlimited growth and market monopolization. While becoming yet another boring but reliable player in the international launch market is feasible for them, it is clear that they selling far bigger dreams without being honest about it.

Now, if you thought that this post would make a similar case against Telsa motors, you guessed right! As you will soon see, my issues with the business model of Tesla Motors and its borderline hypomaniac CEO, Elon Musk, have nothing to do with the feasibility of building an electric car with acceptable performance and mileage. Even a brief overview of the history of technological developments (especially rechargeable lithium batteries) as they relate to building viable electric automobiles shows that viable electric cars were possible anytime after the late 1990s.

But before we go any further, let us talk a bit more about what has historically been the single largest obstacle to developing viable and competitive electric cars. Yes.. I am talking about the energy density of rechargeable batteries, aka the source of energy for such vehicles. As some of you might know, electric cars and conventional gasoline powered cars came onto the market at around the same time, over a hundred years ago. Even more interestingly, early electrical cars were quite competitive with their contemporary gasoline-powered competitors.

What ultimately doomed electric cars by the late 1910s was that their range on single charge just could not keep up with the steadily improving performance of gasoline powered cars. Also, the extent of electrification necessary to make such short-range cars viable was simply not there till after WW2. In contrast to that, gasoline was easy to transport, store and cars using it had much better range, speed in addition to being much less expensive to drive per mile or kilometer. Lead acid batteries, you see, have a pretty shitty energy density (as in almost 70-80 times lower) when compared to gasoline and an equivalent amount of electric energy was (and still is) more expensive than gasoline or diesel.

The energy density of modern lithium-ion batteries is now only 10-20 times lower than gasoline, which while still being sorta shitty, is good enough to power cars with decent performance and range- largely because electric motors are lighter than equivalent internal-combustion engines and the former do not require conventional transmissions. Problems related to the speed of recharging such vehicles and storing electricity cheaply on a large-scale do however still remain, as do issues related to using them in less populated areas without a reliable electrical grid. In other words, electric cars are still a niche product.

To make matters worse for electric cars, their gasoline (and diesel) powered competitors have benefited from over a century of continuous improvements. The technology behind them is mature and very well understood, as is the ability to produce them at very high quality levels on ginormous scales. There is a reason why you can buy a new Toyota Corolla for a fairly affordable price and expect it to run almost half a million kilometers with basic maintenance and relatively inexpensive repairs. The real competition for Tesla cars are not other electric- or luxury gasoline- powered cars but your humble Toyota Corollas, Honda Accords and Hyundai Sonatas.

Which brings us to the first problem specific to Tesla Motors. Simply put, Tesla motors has yet to produce, or even demonstrate the technological wherewithal for making, cars which can directly compete against their highly optimized mass-market gasoline powered competitors. If you don’t believe me, compare the price of a fully loaded Toyota Corolla and a Tesla 3. Did I mention that you can buy a Corolla right now, while the status of full-scale Tesla 3 production is still up in the air. Did I mention that they have been having these problems for over a year now, unexpected departure of many senior executives and issues ranging from the poor product quality to thoughtless design choices. I could go.. but you get the point.

Even worse, the Chevy Volt which has specs very similar to a base level Tesla 3 has proven to a poor seller. To put it another way, the real reason Tesla Motors still has a (now rapidly shrinking) waiting list for their cars is largely due to the cache of owning a Tesla car, rather than electric cars being competitive with gasoline powered ones. This is somewhat like there being a prestige market for rabbit droppings if rabbits suddenly went extinct. But what happens once the prestige market for Tesla cars get tapped out?

As readers might know only too well, most people buy cars to use them as appliances. It certainly helps if a car looks good or is considered cool, but as even a quick glance will demonstrate, most people are quite happy to drive mediocre-looking beige boxes as long as they are reliable and affordable to own. The unpleasant fact is that there are simply not enough customers for quirky prestige cars for Tesla Motors to cause any real “disruption” in the automobile manufacture business. And we have not even started talking about Tesla cars being especially susceptible to malicious hacking, safety issues resulting from lack of physical controls for many basic functions, finding raw materials to manufacture lithium-ion batteries on the scale they are talking about.

In the next part of this series, I will talk about the rather peculiar similarities between the overall career profile of Elizabeth Holmes and Elon Musk. Yes.. she is the CEO of that now disgraced company which was able to fool investors, bankers and other “experts” for almost 15 years. As I will show you in the next post, both Elon Musk and that woman are purveyors of what I call the “Silicon Valley Scam”, which is largely based on making highly exaggerated claims based on a kernel of reality and appealing to the “optimism” of clever idiots in Silly Valley with empty lives to part with their money. But there is much more to that scam as you will find about in the next part of this series.

What do you think? comments?

The Business Model of SpaceX is a Quintessentially American Fraud

June 6, 2017 28 comments

I have been meaning to write this particular post for a few months now, but was not sure how to compress into something that can be comfortably read in one sitting. On the other hand, aiming for too much optimization and perfection is probably not helpful for getting things done and posted. So here it is..

The main point of this post, stripped down to its absolute minimum, is that the business model of SpaceX is a uniquely american-style fraud. Note, I am not saying that corporations like SpaceX are incapable of making a profit someday in the future. My issues with their business model concern the many claims made by them about their future prospects, especially about their advertised potential for future growth, profit and services.

To be fair, the business model of SpaceX is Elon Musk‘s second largest fraud- after Tesla Inc. FYI- My criticism of the business model of Tesla Inc is not based on whether electric cars are practical or viable (they are both). It has to do with the claims made by Musk about how electric cars will displace internal combustion because the former will become somehow cheaper or more functional than the later. But that issue is best left for another day.

It is an open secret that Tesla Inc market capitalization has no link to the number of cars it can sell. How else can you explain a corporation selling less than 80 thousand automobiles a year being considered more valuable than one that sells 10 million a year. As you will soon see, the public image of SpaceX’s future potential is also largely based on a combination of extremely wishful (ok.. highly delusional) thinking and silly valley-style optimism. Along the way you will also see why I say that it is a quintessentially american fraud.

So let me list the many ways that SpaceX’s business model is based on a public relations-led fraud.

1] Everything SpaceX has achieved to date is based on half-century old research funded by the american government. Yes, you heard that right! SpaceX’s launchers are based on technology and fundamental research done by the public sector decades ago. Furthermore, unlike the older corporations comprising United Launch Alliance (Boeing, Lockheed etc), it has not really invented or discovered anything more innovative than making the lower stages of their rockets land vertically and streaming HD videos from them.

SpaceX’s business model is based on PR promoting themselves as innovative while being dependent on decades old research as well as direct and indirect government largess. It certainly helps that there are enough idiots in the world who will buys flashy hype. In other words, the business model of SpaceX is very similar to Tesla Motors and pretty much every single corporation (startup or otherwise) in Silly Valley. As I will show you in the next couple of paragraphs, their claim of being the cheapest space launch system is based on a gross misrepresentation- on many levels.

2] Elon Musk’s is trying to sell the dream that it is possible to build a few dozen launchers and then simply refuel and fly them over and over again for say 10-20 times before building new ones. To put it another way, he wants you to believe that it is possible to make space launch systems that are more like commercial airliners than conventional space launch systems. There is just one problem with that idea.. it is based on what can be best described as optimistic bullshit.

Rocket engines, you see, are rather different from most other types of engines in that they work under conditions of extreme heat and pressure and with a very tiny margin of mechanical safety. They have to so because of the conditions necessary for their operations and the need to keep their weight down. While it has been possible to build potentially reusable Kerosene-LOX engines of the type used by SpaceX for decades now, there haven’t been any takers. Even the ex-USSR, and Russia, preferred to use new engines rather than reuse engines even when they knew that the later would OK after refurbishment and testing.

But why? Why did countries like the ex-USSR which made them in tens of thousands prefer to use new engines than use ones they knew could be reused. Well.. it comes down to a cost and risk calculation. Rocket engines, even the most simplified and robust ones, are always one tiny defect away from blowing up. It is easier to be certain about the lack of tiny but fatal defects in a newly built engine than a refurbished one. Moreover the cost of a refurbished engine blowing up once in a while exceeds the cost of using freshly built engines. Also refurbishing and testing used engines can get almost as expensive as building new ones from scratch.

3] The launch cost of a spacecraft, especially a satellite or space probe, is often the smallest part of the program budget. Yes.. you heard that right, launch cost for satellites is often significant lower than the costs of designing, building and testing them- not to mention ground support for the next 10-15 years. My point is that launch costs for a satellite or any spacecraft (which is not a disposable transport vessel) is usually less than 20% of the “Total Cost of Ownership” for that particular spacecraft program. In other words, launch cost is not a particularly big concern to organisations whose primary operations require reliable and long-lived spacecraft. And this brings us the next point..

4] Even if we assume that SpaceX is actually cost competitive, who will use their launch services? Here is a hint- almost nobody outside the USA or in their political orbit. Here is why.. Countries such as Russia, China, India and Japan are going to use their own launch systems for a number of reasons from ensuring national security, keeping their own scientists and engineers employed and national pride. Also, vertical integration of spacecraft and launcher programs create far more cost savings than using somebody else to launch your spacecraft using slightly cheaper launchers.Even many European countries are unlikely to use SpaceX over their own ESA launch systems over the long term- even doing so is a bit more expensive because it is about preserving technology and job security for their own citizens. Furthermore, countries other than those listed above are also unlikely to have a strong preference for SpaceX since countries like China already offer very competitive packages covering everything from satellite design and launch to post-launch support aka vertical integration.

5] Even in USA, the launch business for commercial and military satellites is an oligopoly- one long dominated by well-known players such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Thiokol. Did I mention that those corporations have much more money, and many paid lobbyists, than SpaceX? To make a long story short, Space X is unlikely to become the dominant player in the area of launching american spacecraft (in dollar terms) unless the other larger players screw up very badly. This is not to say that SpaceX cannot make a decent profit on launching some spacecraft for the american governments and USA-based corporations. In fact, SpaceX will run just fine and make a decent profit as long as it is run as a conventional launch business.

To summarize, SpaceX is bluffing and lying when it claims the ability to “disrupt” the space launch business or become the dominant global player in that sector. What is especially sad to see is the number of otherwise intelligent people who are willing to treat the press releases of that company as holy gospel. Then again the USA is full of self-delusional types who are confident of becoming multi-millionaires within the next decade. To summarize, the long-term (and even medium-term) business model of SpaceX is a confidence scam based on rosy and polished presentations combined with exhortations to positive thinking. And that is why I called it a quintessentially american fraud.

What do you think? Comments?