Morris Beschloss 2016-11-08 01:50:51
Is geothermal the ultimate renewable? Of all the various aspects of renewable power, geothermal seems to have risen to the top of the heap. According to data collected by the Energy Information Administration, only nuclear power has a higher average capacity factor. The term “capacity factor” compares the power produced with the maximum generating capacity to be expected from a particular energy form. The long-term coverage is around 90% for nuclear, 70% for geothermal and 50-70% for coal-fired and natural gas-fired power sources. Wind and solar power are much more variable and have much lower capacity factors. These can drop to zero when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. Geothermal uses the heat from the earth’s interior to produce steam, which is passed through a turbine to produce electricity. It’s a mature technology, with a generation cost comparable to coalfired plants. However, its usage is limited by geographical location, making it less popular than wind or solar power. The largest geothermal power plant complex in the world is controlled by major energy giant Chevron and is located north of San Francisco, Chevron developed the geysers, which today include 14 geothermal power plants with a net generating capacity of about 725 megawatts of electricity. These geysers now are run by energy producer Calpine, which has 84 mostly naturalgas power plants in operation or under construction in 21 states and Canada. Today, Chevron remains one of the largest producers of geothermal power in the world. Earlier this year, Chevron announced plans to sell geothermal assets valued at $3 billion in Indonesia and the Philippines. However, Chevron remains the dominant factor worldwide in the geothermal sector, although other companies such as Ormat Technologies, a builder and operator of geothermal plants and suppliers of related equipment, are indicating major growth in the most recent past and the foreseeable future. TODAY AND TOMORROW’S ECONOMY While robust consumer spending finally made its move in the U.S. economy’s first half, this was more than offset due to an unanticipated drop in business investment. This trend almost assures a total annual gross domestic product growth increase short of 1.5%, as a stronger dollar and worries about the recent election outcome inhibited all but the most urgent repair and replacement spending overall. The unexpected strength of the dollar, helped by the unanticipated drop of the pound in the Brexit aftermath, puts a further crimp in 2016’s fading U. S. exports. A nervous consumer sector, worried about the makeup of the incoming administration, is certain to curb the increased consumer spending habits of 2016’s first half. Such a combination of dormant business spending, nervous consumer sector’s tighter pockets and unsold goods in inventory have combined to put a strong negative on the economic year’s second half. Looking ahead, while the 2017 global economy indicates the ingredients of a moderate comeback year worldwide, the United States is certain to become a major recipient of such a rebound. This is already being confirmed by the spate of investment dollars flooding into the purchase of U.S. real estate, both residential and commercial, and the growing acquisition of components or totality of American businesses. It may only be a pessimist’s case of the “least worst,” but the world at large today looks at the United States as the best assurance of retention and growth of money invested. This global attitude, encouraged by the increasing economic and geopolitical instability facing Europe and even the growth nations of China and India, not to mention the Mideast powder keg, places the American nation’s economy at the top of the heap of safety and growth in the years to come. U.S. MANUFACTURING UPDATE When the American media refers to the growing “U.S. rust belt,” it is not overstating the case of the shrinking national manufacturing sector. In the current new century alone, those employed in the manufacturing sector have decreased by one-third. Historically, these “assembly line” jobs have been among the highest paid, much of which was the result of the powerful AFL/ CIO union combine. This organization extracted increased wage contracts every three years during the decades of the mid-to-late 1900s when America’s domestic and growing export opportunities made corporate ownership averse to lengthy strikes that could negatively break the momentum of profitable growth. While some of the growing manpower reduction of the manufacturing sector can be related to accelerating technology, the major shift, reducing factory job opportunities, commenced in the late 1970s, reaching its peak after the turn of the century. This quickening trend began with the phenomenal industrial recovery by a World War II-defeated Japan, which created an unmatched export boom. Tokyo accomplished this with first-class products in automotive, technological and a wide variety of retail products. This was subsequently followed by an even greater wave of U.S. imports from China, and to a lesser extent smaller Asiatic countries, concentrating on clothing, footwear and other low-cost retail products that costwise overwhelmed equivalent American-based manufactured products. In addition to the billions of dollars-worth of finished goods swamping the U.S., America’s fast-growing industrial conglomerates began shifting their production bases overseas, a trend that still is very much alive and growing today. In fact, an increasing perpetrator of the shrinking U.S. industrial production market is Mexico. With the 1993 advent of the North American Free Trade Authority, a growing component of the U.S. foreign industrial shift has relocated to Mexico, which is no longer subject to the tariffs and taxes shouldered by Asiatic producers. While as yet not well-known, this movement is creating a major low-cost base south of the border. This has the advantage of no taxes/tariff imposition, minimum freight costs and smaller orders, as well as the manpower to develop an as yet massive industrial base. This is bound to create additional competition for America’s embattled manufacturing sector, hopefully awaiting remedial action by the incoming U. S. political administration. While the outgoing U.S. administrative leadership is being made aware of the recent southward moves already made by Ford and Carrier Corp., and some others, no remedial action is being taken or is expected for now. CAPITAL INVESTMENT’S DOWNWARD TREK The overall industrial deterioration of capital spending, which fell 10% from previous levels in 2015, continued its decline during the first three quarters of 2016. This shrinkage is expected to continue, although at a lower pace, throughout 2017. This belief has been fortified by a published position rendered by Standard & Poor’s highly respected credit rating system. Although the U.S. administration continues to harp on the lower unemployment rate as an indication of economic improvement, even that percentage has been discredited since the labor-force participation rate has become the accepted standard for the nation’s inability to put millions of potential workers back on the payroll. This overall hiring downturn has been confirmed by Kauffman Foundation Research (experts on new business creation), which cites the rate of new business development as having peaked just prior to the great financial recession in 2008. Since then, new business creations shrunk 30% during the four-year recession and are showing few signs of bouncing back. What is of even greater concern is business closures have outpaced new formations for the first time since 1970 when the Kauffman Report first published this statistic. While the ever-optimistic media celebrated a strong month of 250,000-plus jobs earlier in the third quarter, monthly employment gains, as of this writing, have averaged 175,000 this year, well below the 229,000 pace in 2015. This confirms the post-great financial recession downturn still is on a long-term downward trend. Such factors have resulted in persistent revenue declines in the post-recession period. These factors also have contributed to the ongoing reduction in bottomline profits, a trend that has continued throughout the first three quarters of 2016. While most of the larger corporations have indulged in cost-cutting through employment reduction as well as reduced capital spending, further reduction opportunities will be harder to come by in 2017. With revenues down, and cost-cutting having reached a maximum, any cash left on corporate balance sheets will not be used for future expansion. This means the 2% increase in annual gross domestic product, which even Washington, D.C., admitted is minimal, will be more difficult to achieve in the immediate future and even next year. MORRIS BESCHLOSS is a global economic analyst, award-winning long-term top business executive, and avid blogger for all aspects of worldwide financial, geo-political, and economic happenings.
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