Thursday, August 31, 2017

End of Oil?

The End of Oil &

Rise of Electric Vehicles

"The stone age didn't end for lack of stones"
(Sheik Yamani - former Saudi Oil Minister)
Even the Wall St. Journal sees it coming!

Tony Seba in his (very upbeat) videos on the coming transportation revolution starts with two photos of NYC in 1900 and 1913.

First - 1900:

Second - 1913: 
Someone entering first grade in 1900 would know only horses as "last mile" and personal transportation - unchanged since the dawn of history.  That same person would graduate high school with horses hard to find among all the automobiles.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are to internal combustion engine (ICE) cars as motor cars were to horses.

Growth of EVs on the roads
From IEA publication at:

Seba's point is that when change happens it can happen very, very fast.  Electric vehicles (EVs), Seba argues, will replace internal combustion engines (ICEs) with equal rapidity.  His argument is that while EVs represent only 1% of sales now, they have been doubling their sales every 2 years.  If they continue on then another 2 years (2019) = 2%, then 4% in 2021, then 8%, 16%, etc., etc. putting the crossover year in 2030 - thirteen years from this year - 2017 - the same time it took autos to replace horses!  What a coincidence!
If EVs continue to double market share every two years

Or maybe it isn't a coincidence.  There is a similar pattern to many technology adoptions as seen here (click on chart to expand):
Market penetration rate of new technologies increases over time

The most rapid adoptions are happening most recently as seen from above chart.  The telephone took 60 years to go from 5% to 80% of US households.  Cell phones took 10 years to do the same (see chart above):

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a working paper in May 2017 titled "Riding the Energy Transition: Oil Beyond 2040".

From the paper: Electric Vehicle adoption is happening at a faster rate than cars were adopted.  As a minor but supportive note, if you look closely you can make out that e-bikes are being adopted faster than were motorcycles (click image to enlarge).

Same thing only clearer - red line (electric vehicles) growing at a faster rate from 2011 (at 0.07 per 1,000 people) than purple line (motor vehicles) - from 1900 (at 0.11 per thousand people):

As motor vehicles became more common, horses became less common - diminishing from 39 per 1,000 people in 1905 to 3 per 1,000 by 1930 as shown below (note logarithmic axis so growth is much faster than initially appears).  Again, we see EVs growing faster than motor cars did.  Will EVs replace motor cars faster than autos replaced horses?

As EVs gain market share, at some point it will become harder and harder to find gas stations and auto repair shops.  The drive train for the standard motor car has about 2,000 moving parts - pistons, gears, belts, rotors, etc., etc.  (see below).
All the parts of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car.  Over 99% disappear in an Electric Vehicle.
EVs have less than 20.  The drive train for an EV consists of batteries, one to four electric motors, brakes, steering wheel, battery coolant, seats and wheels.  That's it - no crankshaft, transmission, gears, starter motor, pistons.  See below:

The maintenance costs for motor cars are correspondingly more.  Those owning motor cars will see themselves paying for oil changes, transmission maintenance, belt replacements, etc. while their neighbors with EVs do none of these. The costs of maintaining a motor car will make it increasingly obvious that the sooner one replaces a motor car with an EV, the sooner the financial drain will end.

When Will Oil End?

The same month the IMF paper was published, the Wall Street Journal, a conservative pro-business newspaper, reported essentially the same thing with the only issue in doubt being the timing.

Before getting into details, I want to note that "experts" have been spectacularly wrong about how fast new technologies are adopted.  Seba's 13-year projection for 100% of all new cars being EVs was based on the incredibly rapid replacement of the horse with the motor car.  That change in 1913 required enormous changes of infrastructure - massive numbers of oil refineries, gas stations, paved roads, mechanics and parts suppliers for maintenance.  The EV needs an electrical outlet - we already have those.

Here are some views (as noted in the WSJ article):

IEA: "The Paris-based International Energy Agency argues that demand will grow, albeit slowly, past 2040" (WSJ, ibid) This is based on the assumption that countries won't do much to strengthen regulations to mitigate Green House Gas emissions (GHGe).  If countries do impose restrictions on GHGe then the IEA predicts 2020 for peak demand.

BP: British Petroleum predicts 2040, but alternative scenarios based on the rate of shift to alternative fuels are labeled "fast" and "faster" predicting earlier and much earlier times for peak demand.  BP is shifting investment to natural gas.  BP has a carbon-neutral project:

Royal Dutch Shell:  peak demand in 2025 to 2030.  The CEO of Shell is getting an electric car.  The CFO already has one.  Shell is shifting investment to natural gas and renewables.

Statoil: peak demand in 2030.  Norway's oil producing company sees a rapid shift to electric cars in both the developed and developing world (where gas is usually $6-$7 per gallon).

Total Oil Co:  2040.  The French oil company uses the IEA scenarios.

Exxon, Aramco, Chevron:  No peak demand in sight.

McKinsey Co.: 2035.  EVs will represent 50% of the car market in developed countries and 30% in emerging economies.

"...the biggest “X” factor is how widespread electric-vehicle (EV) adoption will be. Transport fuel accounts for about 50% of the demand for crude oil, with cars accounting for half of that..." (WSJ - ibid).  As described in the WSJ article, the IEA's conservative estimate for 2040 hinges on the importance of trucking as a consumer of oil and the importance of mass market 200-mile range cars as a minimum requirement for widespread adoption.

But we already have several cars with over 200 miles of range before recharging. That 200 miles between recharging is almost universally considered the tipping point at which mass market sales of EVs will take off, along with a price of around $33,000 - the average selling price of new cars in the US.
Tesla Model 3 released July 2017
210 to 310 miles per charge
$35,000 before $7,500 US tax rebate

Chevrolet Bolt released December 2016
238 miles per charge
$35,000 before $7,500 US tax rebate
Trucks account for about 40% of transport oil demand with all the other forms (shipping, air, military) making up about 10%.  The IEA spokesman said that without trucking going electric he could not see a peak demand coming any sooner than 2040.  Except they are already here:
Daimler Urban-e Truck
A typical semi-truck costs $120,000 new, drives 100,000 miles per year and uses about $75,000 in diesel fuel annually.  An electric truck pays for itself in 2-3 years based solely on the cost of fuel.  Trucking companies are eager to electrify as they care about only one thing - lowest total cost.
Cummins e-Truck AEOS
Ford teamed up with DHL (Deutsche Post in the EU) to make delivery trucks.  They come in 50-mile range and 124 mile range.  They are sold to other trucking companies as well.  Few delivery trucks go more than 75 miles but most do a lot of stop-and-go.  That stop-and-go is very hard on ICEs and since often the motor is left running while the delivery person runs out and back, it is also very expensive and hard on the environment.  If an EV isn't moving the battery does nothing.  Since delivery trucks have fixed routes it is easy to choose just the right amount of battery power.
DHL (Deutsche Post in the EU) designed its own 100% electric trucks

Tesla is slated to reveal detail next month on it's semi tuck reported to have a 200-300 mile range.  It is designed for regional carriers which is 30% of trucking these days - train depot to warehouse, warehouse to retail store, etc. (click chart below to enlarge).

In Norway 42% of new car sales were electric in 2016.  China is demanding all auto companies produce a 8% electric cars, and will raise the requirement as time goes on.  On bad air days in China, ONLY EVs are allowed in cities.  China's auto market is the largest in the world at about 24 Million/year vs 17 Million/year in the US.  below is a 100% electric medium delivery truck.  Thousands have been sold in China and it is being brought to the US in partnership with Ryder Truck Leasing.  The CEO of Ryder is a former Tesla executive.

There are 7 million trucks this size on the roads of the US.  About 500,000 are sold each year.


In terms of transportation, we are very close to a golden age of electric vehicles of all sizes and uses.  Long term, we can stop using GHG emissions as a reason for biking, high density housing, and everything else under the sun.  Biking, and high density housing must be considered on their own merits.  Transport of goods and people is on the edge of a great sea change which will change the conversation about these issues dramatically.  There will still be important areas to work on, but by 2030 it will be very clear that transport GHG emissions won't be one of them.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Housing Bubbles World-wide

(If formatting here looks weird, try this link: )

Think we got it bad?

UBS report is here:

Interesting report from UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland).  Every year they do a bubble index of housing prices in major cities around the world.  The SF Bay area is moderately "bubbly".  In terms of affordability, many cities are worse, a few are better.

UBS has a bubble index which is a composite of various measures of affordability.  San Francisco is "overvalued" but just shy of a bubble - 7th from the top among major world cities - a little better than Hong Kong but a little worse than Amsterdam.  Click on chart to enlarge

Price-to-Income is probably how most people look at housing prices.  For UBS it is the number of years a skilled worker has to work to afford a 645 sq. ft. (60 sq. meter) condo-apt. near the city center.  By that standard, SF is in much better shape than the majority of world cities due to high wages.  SF is more expensive than Zurich but cheaper than Geneva and Stockholm.  Click on graph to enlarge.

Number of years of work to buy a small condo-apt.

Within North America, San Francisco is high but Vancouver in Canada is worse due largely to foreign investment bidding up housing values.

Europe is mostly worse though a few cities are better.

Asia Pacific (A-PAC) is mixed.  Tokyo is experiencing a boom compared to previous years as people return to central Tokyo.  But if you look further into Japan, you find housing prices falling because the population is falling.  Japan has currently 126 Million people but that is down from 127 Million three years ago.  Japan's population is expected to fall under 80 M to 50 M by 2110.  (c.f.,

Sydney (in fact all of Australia), like Vancouver, is also experiencing a lot of foreign real estate investment driving up housing prices.  Note the log scale - prices have risen higher than it first appears.

So, it could be worse!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Another Financial Bubble?

Link for best formatting:

Financial Bubble Again?

A concern I have heard is that there may be a surplus of office space.  Some have projected a vacancy rate of about 10% in the SF Bay area - higher in some areas than others.  This will only be exacerbated in the Sunnyvale-Cupertino-Mountain View area as much more office space opens up in Central San Jose for companies such as Apple and Google that occupy many buildings in our cities. Will we have a lot of see-through offices?

Another (related) concern is that stock market valuations are very high and we might be in a bubble followed by a crash like the dot-com bust of 2000 or the housing crash of 2007-2008.  This would leave a lot of unfinished buildings in various states.  Sunnyvale has seen this before.

The following chart looks like we are in a 2000 dot-com or 2007 housing bubble again,.  The Standard and Poor's stock index is at 103% above normal.  The only time it was higher was 2000.

S&P stock index between 2000 bubble and 2007 bubble?

Another way to look at the stock market is below.  Again, deja vu of the Dot-Com bubble?

Commercial properties becoming the 2007 housing bubble but in commercial real estate?  Chart below shows May, 2017.

The above graph is the same as below but corrected for inflation.  We find commercial property is above the 2007-2008 real estate value after inflation is factored in.

Are foreign investors in commercial real estate pulling back?  It looks a lot like 2007 only worse because now Asia has joined the "festivities".  The bigger the boom, the bigger the bust.

The next graph shows SF Bay Area housing affordability by county.  Since housing affordability (which goes through cycles) is reaching a level last seen during the 2000 dot-com bubble, and in some areas is at the 2007-2008 bubble levels, we may justifiably be worried about an impending "correction".  Such a correction has left offices vacant for years.

The next graph shows current affordability by county by estimating the percentage of families that can afford to buy a house.  In San Francisco it is only 13%, Santa Clara 19% all of California it is 32%, in Solano County it is 45%.  In the US as a whole it is 57%.

However, growth is slowing down which will give builders a chance to catch up to demand.  San Francisco is seeing a cooling in both job growth and rent increases.  “Tech is growing more slowly than the rest of the economy and tech has been the thing that has been driving the economy forward the last decade,” said Ted Egan, chief economist for the city of San Francisco. “We are in the middle of a notable slowdown.”

We can hope for a soft landing but the widely viewed Shiller CAPE chart of the stock market going back to the 1880's shows stocks at levels seen only in 1929 and 2000.  Markets did not come down softly from those levels.  Dr. Shiller of Yale won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in asset valuation - which includes stocks and houses.  (Click on graphics to enlarge).

A composite of five different valuations of the US stock market shows high levels of stock deviation from the long term average - similar to the 2000 bubble.  Maybe "this time is different"?

I sincerely hope we do not have a major recession but it behooves us to be cautious in making long term plans.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunnyvale Downtown - Part I

If formatting seems odd try:

Addendum 8/18/2017 - Some confusion was clarified in the City Council meeting of 8/15/2017.  Corrections and clarifications are in red.

On Tuesday, August 15, 2017 the Sunnyvale City Council will take up a proposal to study some revisions to the downtown plan.  It is item 4 on the agenda.  Documents relating to it are here:

Sunnyvale's city web site on the downtown is here:

Another web site:


Site plan from (Click on image to enlarge).

The proposal includes the following requests:
  1. Re-examine current building height limits of 85 ft and 70 ft.,
  2. Reduce retail from 1,000,000 sq. ft to 675,000 sq. ft.,
  3. Increase housing from 290 to 750 units, Add 750 to the 292 originally proposed = 1,042.
  4. More commercial space:  686,000 sq. ft. instead of 275,000 sf.
  5. Remove 200-room hotel,
  6. Put a pedestrian walk extension of Frances St. through the middle of the current Macy's Building.  This would make it two buildings.  Also, add four two floors of commercial space,
  7. Add on to existing "Murphy Square" building.
To let the Sunnyvale City Council know your thoughts on the issue you may attend the public hearing at 7 PM on August 15th, 2017, at 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086 and fill out a speaker card to speak for 3 minutes on the issues or email the city council at:

I, of course, remain studiously neutral and completely open, trusting fully in the impartiality of the analysts of the proposed study.

By the way, some people have strong feelings about some builders.  Speaking for myself, I think we should look only at what is good for Sunnyvale, regardless of who is the agent.  Also, we get a lot of information third hand so we may be missing some aspects of various situations.  Also, Mathew 7:3.


Current concept from Sares Regis developer is here: with an excerpt below. (Click to enlarge)

Work Area Diagram
The revisions requested are:
  1. Request existing height limits be made flexible.  Current heights allowed are  85 ft (about height of a 7-story apartment building) for one block and 70 ft. (about = a 6-story apt. building) for other blocks. Developers (or staff?) are requesting these be not absolute limits but 'flexible' height limits. Some might say builders do not want to lower the maximum height so 'flexible' may be taken to mean 'higher'.
  2. Cut the amount of retail space by about one third from roughly 1,000,000 sq. ft. to about 675,000 sq. ft.  The argument is that a lot of retail is going online so you don't want to have a lot of empty store fronts.  Others have argued that downtown near public transit is the single best place to put retail.  To those people, a downtown is distinguished (or not) by its retail - restaurants, hair stylists, nice little bookstores, dress shops, etc.  If El Camino becomes largely residential, as many would like, then where will retail go, these people ask.  What I hear some people are afraid of is that we will get more streets like Olson Way which, to some people, is effectively a 'dead' street.
    Olson Way - Note the benches facing brick and cement walls
  3. Change the number of housing units from to 292 to 790 1,042, ("292 to 790" is a direct quote from Sunnyvale city staff in their Report to City Council.  It was the original request from developer Sares Regis.  It should have read 292 + 750 = 1,042.) 2.7 This is 3.6 times  the number of apartments originally proposed - 500 additional units proposed by developer Sares-Regis and another 250 units added by city staff.  It is unspecified how large the housing unit buildings will be but this might tie into the 'flexible' height issue above.  The diagram of the current proposal shows the existing 5-story apt. buildings with 4 stories of apts. above 1 story of retail.  These will stay as they are as seen in the Work Area Diagram shown above.  All the additional 750 apartments would go where Macy's parking lot is and where the green area next to it is.  See street and satellite views below:
    750 Apartments would go in area marked in RED above
    750 Apartments would go in area seen here
     If the number of stories of apts is multiplied by 2.7, to accommodate the increase in the number of housing units, they would become 11-stories of apartments plus one of retail on the ground floor.  This would be about 140 feet tall.  There is a 10-story apartment building (about 120 feet tall) in Cupertino at 20450 Stevens Creek Blvd.  Click image to enlarge:
    10-Story Apt. Building at 20450 Steven Creek Blvd
    This is a drawing of a 12-story building in approximately the style of the existing proposals:
    12-story Apartment Building
  4. Add 411,000 sq. ft commercial space - from 275,000 sq. ft. to 686,000 sf. = 411,000 sf increase = 2.5 times the commercial space originally authorized.  Given the huge increase in housing units requiring 10 or 12 story apartment buildings where would this additional space go?  Additional commercial space would partially come from replacing Macy's retail space and partially from deleting the 200-room hotel.  Multiplying by 2.5 a 4-story building is an additional 6 stories = a 10-story building.  Would the 4-story office buildings become 10-story commercial office buildings?  For comparison, here is an 8-story office building in Cupertino near Steven Creek and De Anza Blvd.  The approximate size of a four story office building is seen below. Click image to enlarge:  
    Very rough approximation of what a redone Macy's would look like except it would be split into two buildings
  5. Eliminate the planned 200-room hotel.  I am unclear on why they would want to do this.  It appears this comes from the desire to add more commercial office space.  I have heard it argued that while apt/condo dwellers can eat at home, hotel guests pretty much have to eat in a restaurant. This, they say,  gives extra business to the downtown merchants, keeping the downtown busy and attractive.  Another argued 'With all the commercial space being asked for, they continue, where will potential clients and customers of all the downtown office companies stay?'  Those I asked said essentially:   'We are constantly hearing about the dire shortage of hotel space, and how much revenue the hotel tax brings in.  This is the downtown.  We get one chance to get it right.  If we don't build it in now, it may never go in.'  The existing small hotel nearby charges $300 per night and is usually full.  That is the argument for keeping the hotel. On the other hand is the view is that there are a lot of hotels in the works and there might be surplus of hotel space later on.
  6. Cut the Macy's building in half - creating two buildings - with an extension of Frances St. as a pedestrian walkway through to what would become Redwood Square, (roughly 25% of that block).  The existing Macy's building would then have four two more floors added to become a six four-story commercial building of about 120 80 ft in height.  The bottom floor would be "flex retail/office".  It might look like the above picture of the four story office (see above) building but with a pedestrian walkway in the middle.  Sort of like the following picture: 
    For office space, each story is about 20 ft. while for living space each story is about 12 ft.  photo of the 8-story office building in Cupertino minus top 2 floors.  See schematic plan below:
  7. Add an extension to the "Murphy Square" building in the same height and style.  Where a proposed addition to Murphy sq. would be added (with underground parking).
    Where proposed addition to Murphy sq. would be
    Some have noted it is very close to the train tracks where a 'grade separation' might be put in place.  Here is the existing Murphy Square building. The grade separation for the train tracks will be coordinated with the new development.  The architects of the new building say they are open to putting in an open space square at the intersection.
    Existing Murphy Square
With all the requests to cut back on retail, eliminate hotel rooms and add commercial space, some people are saying builders would rather construct commercial buildings.  One might think commercial buildings appear to be simpler - lay some carpet, almost no walls, plumbing for two sets of bathrooms, get a 5 or 10 year lease and collect rent checks.

Hotel rooms, apartments, and condos take a lot of (expensive) skilled manual labor putting in and tiling bathrooms, kitchens, etc., with lots of walls.  Apt. tenants move every year or two, fall behind in their rent, complain about neighbors, management, etc., etc.

Some I talk to argue we need to consider the residents wishes for a vibrant downtown with lots of people living there and patronizing downtown merchants.

Santa Clara's City Council destroyed their downtown years ago and now people there are trying to recapture what they lost.
Santa Clara's Old Downtown - Gone but may return.
There was also talk at the city planning commission hearing about trying to get more ownership (i.e., condos for sale rather than apartments for rent.)

The planning commission video is here:

The agenda for the City Council meeting is available here:

I have to note that a little paranoia clouds my thoughts.  I look at several indices of housing and stock valuations and find them to be very high - similar to 2000, and 1929.  This makes me cautious.  C.f.,

Planning Commission Video notes:
I took some notes from the video of the planning commission of some of the members of the public who spoke on the proposed changes to be studied.  My notes may contain some errors so you may wish to watch the video yourself at

------------  begin notes ------------
Minute mark on video = 83:00 
David Schreny (sp?):  What is being proposed is up to 80% office space because retail rents are 50% below office space hence the incentive for office space.  The Nokia and other existing offices are not inviting for walkability – they are fortresses.

87:30 Benjamin Demming: Increase housing and office and pare back retail.  Regional housing crisis.  Prefer ownership.

90:20 John Cordes:  Short of housing not office space.  Dedicated bike lanes, close off Murphy, hotel has a lot of value:

93:00 Holly Lofgren:  Too much office space – it raises the cost of land which raises the cost of housing.  Ownership better than renting.  Nothing to buy because everything is rental.  Reminder that Sand Hill Property (one of the petitioners) bought and closed down Vallco and is just sitting on it.  Reminder that Mr. Lynch is a former Sunnyvale employee (planning dept.) who vested his public pension and is now a real estate developer.  There are 1/20th the number of places for sale compared to 3-4 years ago.

96:00 Melissa ??:  Visceral reaction against Sand Hill Properties.

97:00 Mehud Vastala: Property values rising causing stress.  Homes near gas stations safe?  Hangs out at Santana Row, SF, and Mtn Vu, but never in Sunnyvale because it has a bad holistic feel.  Need something like Golden Gate Park to make Sunnyvale nice.  Open up space for outdoor concerts etc.

99:40: Jim Davis – (former council member): If you do more office space, you should do it where it was previously designated to go, above Mathilda.  Already did a detailed study years ago on retail space.  Don’t take out the hotel – provide customers for Murphy Ave.  That’s what we had in mind when we authorized it.  The small hotel now in downtown charges $300+ per night for small rooms and is often filled showing demand.  Leave parking in proposed office at corner of Murphy for patrons of Murphy St. after business hours.

103:00 Applicants get to respond.

103:20 STC-Ventures:  Dave Hopkins with Seris-Regis.  Need for building housing downtown.  290 initial proposal, Seris-Regis proposed 500, Sunnyvale city staff added another 250.  Parking underground – understand need for parking.

Commissioner Howe (former Mayor) asked about ownership opportunities.  DH replied they were open to it.

107: Sand Hill Property: Retail office flex space – if they can repurpose it with retail they will.  Last study was done in 2015 which is a long time ago so let’s study it anew.  If the study says we need more housing or retail we’re open to that.  The alley will be about the width of Frances St.  It will not be a dark windswept alley or we won’t have anything.  It needs to be inviting like Murphy St.

110: Chang Architecture:  Passed on the opportunity to comment.

Commissioner Howe asks about bldg height.  Staff answers height limit of 85 ft.  (About 7 stories of apts, maybe 4-5 stories of commercial).

Debate over motion on first part 2017-7364 – study increase residential, remain silent on hotel space and increased office space.

Moved on to 2017-7362 - Chang property at 111 W. Evelyn DSP blk 22.
Commissioner Howe mentioned that the Murphy Sq. addition would add parking for after hours and weekend visitors to downtown.  Passes 5-0.

Moved on to 2017-7364 – Macy’s bldg.  up to 5 stories - Commissioner Howard suggested adding housing.  Likes pedestrian walkway.  Commissioner Howe – added 1st story remains retail or service - not offices.  Discussion – retail and services on study.  Clearly “no office”.

-------  end notes  -----