Monthly Archive for July, 2009

Culinary delights of Washington, D.C.

Half the reason for our recent trip to America was to visit friends in D.C.  Photos for our gallery or facebook will have to wait until Dani gets back, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts on eating in Washington:

  • Tyler Cowen knows what he’s talking about.  The complete version of his dining guide in a single page is here.
  • I ate buffalo (okay, okay. “american bison”) for the first and second time.  The first was in the wonderfully thought out food hall of the National Museum of the American Indian.  The second was in the form of a burger on the rooftop terrace of one of our friends.  Good times.
  • The cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake are delicious (and well worth the wait in line), but they’re not quite as good as those from the Primrose Bakery here in London.
  • The sandwiches at Dean & DeLuca are pretty damn fine.
  • The burgers at Ray’s Hell Burger (how do they not have their own website?) are utterly incredible.  I can have my burger au poivre?  With Foie Gras?  My mouth is watering just remembering it.
  • Be careful that the Ethopian restaurant you choose doesn’t slap you with $6 + tax + tip cokes (it was in the fine print of the menu).  Nevertheless, you’d be crazy to miss some Ethopian while you were there.
  • The crab cakes in Annapolis, MD are the perfect excuse for a day trip.
  • But hands down, the best food I had in D.C. — our friend Maria’s pasta aside, of course — was at Thai X-ing.  It is one guy in the basement of a house.  It’s freaking tiny and easily the best Thai food I have ever, ever eaten.  Here are two photos that I took on my phone (Click on each for a bigger version.  I apologise for the poor quality – the iPhone 3G only has a 1 megapixel camera and the receptor is hardly impressive):
    The kitchen at Thai X-ing

    Dani and Maria at Thai X-ing

    We somehow managed to fit eight people in the space behind Dani and Maria (the bird cage was moved). The cooking is really slow, so the thing to do is to place your order the day before you go if you’re going to eat there. Unbelievably cheap. I refuse to recommend a single dish.

Whither baseload demand?

John Quiggin has a post in which he argues that, if baseload demand exists in any meaningful sense, it is much lower than current offpeak demand.  I want to paraphrase and expand on what he said.

There is no such thing as a “natural” or baseload level of demand.  There is a demand curve that plots quantity demanded as a function of price (or if you’re trained as an economist, the other way around).  There is a 3rd dimension of “time of day” (or more strictly, time of week, if I can say that): the curve of quantity-versus-price shifts in and out over the day.  The entire thing then shifts out slowly over time as population and the economy increase.

At most, we might say that there is a region of the demand curve for the offpeak period that is highly inelastic with respect to price.  Quiggin is arguing that that region would only be for quite small amounts of power, distinctly less than we currently see in offpeak load figures.

The reason lies in the economics of our current electricity supply through coal-fired power stations. (Side note:  I’m not 100% certain of these points – if anyone can confirm or deny them, I’d be glad to hear from you):

  • There is some range in the thermal output of a single furnace (it’s not simply all or nothing), but real variation comes from switching entire furnaces off and on.
  • The cost of moving within the output range of a given furnace is essentially just the fuel cost; the concurrent manpower required and the maintenance needs accrued are unchanged.
  • There are economies of scale in concurrent manpower when increasing the number of furnaces.  Moving from one furnace to two does increase the staff requirement, but it does not double it.
  • There are significant one-time costs associated with starting (and possibly also with shutting down) a furnace, largely due to accruing future maintenance costs.  This means that once you start a furnace, you want to keep it running as long as possible so as to amortise that cost over the greatest amount of output.

The upshot of these points (and all of them point in the same direction) is that a cost-minimising coal-fired power station is one with many furnaces that are shut down as rarely as possible.  In other words, they ideally want to supply a large and constant amount of power to the grid.

But the demand curve at 3pm is a lot further out than at 3am.  The coal powered stations can handle this a little bit by scheduling all non-emergency maintenance overnight, but ultimately, they face a conundrum:  the demand simply doesn’t exist — at any price — to meet their cost-minimising supply in the dead of night.  So they compromise by shutting down some furnaces (which raises the average cost of the remaining power generated) and lowering the offpeak price by half (which lowers the average revenue they receive for that power) in order to raise the quantity demanded.

Quiggin is contesting that the increase in quantity demanded during offpeak is significant compared to the “true baseload” demand, the quantity that would be demanded at 3am at just about any price.

In contrast, solar power, in particular, would have supply shifting in and out over the day along with demand.

Culinary delights of Atlanta, GA

I’ve recently returned from America where, among other things, Dani and I went to the wedding of two of our best friends. On the day of the wedding, the groom’s uncle continued a family tradition by taking the groom and 30 or 40 of his closest male kith and kin out to lunch. While there I had the great pleasure of encountering a new (to me) Southern dish:

A quite spicy (but not obscenely so) Jalepeno pepper, stuffed with shrimp, wrapped in bacon and deep fried on a stick.

I managed three, but should probably have stopped at two. Fantastic. I only wish I’d had the sense to take a photograph.