Investment Wisdom

105. Wesco Annual Meeting 2009 – Part 2 – Pearls of Wisdom: 3-6

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Pearls of Wisdom 3: Stupid Ideas/Inanities: I. Ethanol (as fuel) II. Cap and Trade

Q3: CM: What will be long term consequences of crisis for Wesco?

CM: Almost nothing. We are rich and well financed. By and large our businesses are gaining market share though the economic mess. That is the right way to run a corporation.

Q4: CM: What government response has been inappropriate?

CM: Ethanol is one of stupidest ideas invented by rational people. They don’t count the fossil water or topsoil, and you don’t get much more energy from it, and losing the safety net of cheap food so that food gets high priced is a monstrously stupid idea. People don’t want to admit how stupid it is, but that inanity might pass. The other inanity is cap and trade. China spews out the most carbons, and they won’t stop. Cap and trade would be a huge, massive interventionist tax. We don’t need it. If everything is in one country, maybe you could cap and trade. But it is not.

Pearls of Wisdom 4: Another Stupid Idea: Using up the hydrocarbons of the world too fast

What do we care about? Not using up the hydrocarbons of the world too fast. We do not have good substitute for fertilizers. Preserving those for later times is a good idea. So if we have a good idea why do we need a bad idea like cap and trade worldwide with a bunch of people who won’t do it?

Pearls of Wisdom 5: On The Flip Side: Harnessing The Sun’s Energy Is A Good Idea

How do we solve it? We have to use the energy of the sun. I don’t think we want everyone to have nuclear plants. So we should harness the energy of the sun, and we should cover the nation with an efficient power grid. Then we shift cars to battery propulsion. We know how to create the grid, we understand that already. Getting solar down 50% in price will probably happen.

Freeman Dyson is smart man, and he thinks energy cost is 5% more or less for whole world. Listen more to Dyson, less to Al Gore. One knows how to think, one doesn’t. Chinese create the most coal plants, and they are choking to death in their cities. Chinese are logically located to gain enormously and markedly in manufacturing solar. If we want them to get rid of brown coal, then it would be wonderful if they can gallop to leadership in harnessing the energy of the sun.

My mind drifts in the direction of photovoltaic, rather than to solar thermal. If they last a long time – good, and prices are likely to come down.

Pearls of Wisdom 6: Global Warming & Nervous Nellies – The Jury is out there.

And we need the stimulus of a big energy grid. We have intelligent things to do with the money. Clean power — that is what we should do. We need the stimulus. The cost saving doesn’t matter, but still think it will come. I think we can adapt to a world with more electricity. Israel is interesting place. Half of water used in Israel is from the sea, they take salt from seawater. When mankind does that on huge scale… think of the benefits. But a huge desert with endless power from the sea, maybe everyone there in Middle East can get along better when they collaborate on a large engineering solution. Wang Chuanfu will you stand [ed: CEO of BYD]? He is on his way. I am pleased that the world has the capacity I foresee. I think building a big grid is a good idea. I’m not into systems on everyone’s garage. I’d rather utilities worked out the scale issues, so that whatever you need just comes. Utilities need time shifting of power, so better battery technology is important. We need it in a car since lithium is a light element. I’m told that lithium is very efficient in amount of charging and discharging, and other elements are all cheap. The sea contains lithium – lithium mines are old sea beds. To me these are ABC, every bright high school student should be nodding his head. Though I’m not sure I’m having same effect. [laughter]

If one enables Arabs and Israelis to live together, cheap power would be very good. It is exactly what should happen, and it will happen. If seas rise a little bit, we can handle it. In Holland, much of the country lives below sea level. We have Nervous Nellies, and they enjoy being the town the crier of misery. Correct cry is “plenty”, not misery. That lithium powered car in Omaha, the amount of torque in an electric car is something – the tires would squeal if you pressed to hard.