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Oil is Dirt Cheap… Literally [Chart]

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Oil is Dirt Cheap... Literally [Chart]

Oil is Dirt Cheap… Literally [Chart]

A barrel of oil is the same price as a barrel of “Scott’s Turf Builder”

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

In theory, a barrel of crude oil seems quite valuable.

It’s well-known, for example, that from one barrel of oil, a refinery can make 19 gallons of gasoline, 12 gallons of diesel, and four gallons of jet fuel.

That’s the equivalent of six billion joules of energy, or enough to power the average U.S. household for 1.8 months.

A Dirt Cheap Experiment

However, sometimes the laws of supply and demand work in mysterious ways. While it seems like oil has good intrinsic value, the glut of supply available to the market is so great that “black gold” has become very cheap.

Some would even say “dirt cheap”.

As a part of our landmark investigation, we went all the way to the Home Depot’s website to verify if this were actually true. The results were astonishing, and this information will definitely be helpful the next time I need to do some gardening.

 PriceBags NeededCost per barrel
Loose bulk top soil$204.000.04$8.48
Miracle Gro$7.972.81$22.38
Scotts Turf Builder$6.973.74$26.09
Crude Oil (WTI)$31.72
Proven Winners$10.993.74$41.13

We started by going for the bulk stuff.

For only $135, it’s possible to buy 5 cubic yards of loose bulk top soil. That’s enough for 24 barrels worth, which seemed like a steal. The only downside was that it cost an extra $69 to schedule a dump truck to come by our house, which made it likely overkill for this experiment.

Next, we checked out a bag of Miracle Gro. It’s got the brand name reputation, and this particular bag had a user rating of four stars. At $7.97 for a two cubic feet, we’d just need just less than three bags to fill up a barrel. That works out to $22.38 a barrel. Not bad.

However, if we’re going to be serious about our dirt, we’re going to need something that promotes a strong root system and creates a prime seed-growing environment. We took a peek at Scotts Turf Builder, which is only $6.97 per bag. However, with only 1.5 cubic feet per bag, it’s going to take up over 3.7 to fill up our barrel, bringing our total cost to $26.09.

We’re now within $1.50 of oil’s 52-week low of $27.56.

The Winner

As we continued to shop online for dirt, a five-star gem caught our eye. The brand name was Proven Winners. How could we go wrong with that?

We took a look at the user reviews to be sure.

“I have a high-quality soil-test kit and tested this soil. It is very high in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, so though it will be excellent for plants it is NOT a soil for starting seeds or potting up seedlings,” wrote a previous buyer.

Noted. We will not use it for starting seeds or potting up seedlings. We checked out the price, and for $10.99 per bag containing 1.5 cubic feet, we had our winner. It takes 3.7 of these to fill up our barrel, bringing our cost per barrel of this particularly good dirt to $41.13.

Unfortunately that’s about $10 more than a barrel of oil, but I guess we’ll hedge our bets.

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Energy

Soaking up the Sun: Visualizing the Changing Patterns of Daylight in One Year

The length of your days can change depending on the seasons, and where you are on Earth. Watch how these patterns unfold over a year.

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The darkest days are upon the residents of the Northern Hemisphere as daylight dwindles and the night lingers longer. Meanwhile, those in the Southern Hemisphere bask in their warmest and longest days—and those at the Equator continue to observe consistent days and nights.

These changing lengths of days and nights depend on where you are on Earth and the time of year. The tilt of the Earth’s axis and its path around the sun affect the number of daylight hours.

Today’s post highlights two simple and elegant animations that help demonstrate how different latitudes experience the sun’s light over the course of one year. The first comes from Reddit user harplass, while the second comes from data scientist Neil Kaye.

Longer and Shorter Days

The Ancient Greeks envisioned the movement of the sun as a Titan named Helios who rode across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot, illuminating the known world below. A rosy-fingered dawn would herald his imminent arrival, while the arrival of the dusk god Astraeus, ever on Helios’ heels, marked the passage of day into night.

Today, time is not at the whims of Greek mythology but by the measurable and consistent movement of celestial bodies. A day on Earth is 24 hours long, but not every day has 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. The actual time of one Earth rotation is a little shorter–about 23 hours and 56 minutes.

Daytime is shorter in winter than in summer, for each hemisphere. This is because the Earth’s imaginary axis isn’t straight up and down, it is tilted 23.5 degrees. The Earth’s movement around this axis causes the change between day and night.

During summer in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight hours increase the farther north you go. The Arctic gets very little darkness at night. The seasonal changes in daylight hours are small near the Equator and more extreme close to the poles.

Length of a Rotation: Equinoxes and Solstices

There are four events that mark the passing stages of the sun, equinoxes and solstices.

The two solstices happen June 20 or 21 and December 21 or 22. These are the days when the sun’s path in the sky is the farthest north or south from the Equator. A hemisphere’s winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and the summer solstice the year’s longest.

Equinoxes and Solstices

In the Northern Hemisphere the June solstice marks the start of summer: this is when the North Pole is tilted closest to the sun, and the sun’s rays are directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer.

The December solstice marks the start of winter when the South Pole is tilted closest to the sun, and the sun’s rays are directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.

The equinoxes happen around March 21 and September 23. These are the days when the sun is exactly above the Equator, which makes day and night of equal length.

Stand in the Place Where You Are

It is always darkest before the dawn, and every passing of solstice marks a time of change. As the Northern Hemisphere heads into the winter holiday season, it also marks the advent of longer days and the inevitable spring and summer.

The lengths of days and nights are constantly changing, but every one will get their time in the sun, at some point.

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Mapped: The 1.2 Billion People Without Access to Electricity

A surprising number of people around the world are still living without access to reliable electricity. This map shows where they live.

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global electricity access map

For anyone reading this article, the benefits of electricity need not be explained.

Access to electricity is now an afterthought in most parts of the world, so it may come as a surprise to learn that 16% of the world’s population — an estimated 1.2 billion people — are still living without this basic necessity. Lack of access to electricity, or “energy poverty”, is the ultimate economic hindrance as it prevents people from participating in the modern economy.

Where are people still living in the dark, and how are these energy challenges being addressed? Let’s dive in.

Where the Grid Reaches, and Beyond

At this point in time, a majority of countries have 100% electricity access rates, and many more have rates above 95%. This includes most of the world’s high-population countries, such as China, Brazil, and the United States.

India is fast approaching that benchmark for access. The massive country has made great strides in a short amount of time, jumping from a 70% to 93% access rate in a single decade.

Meanwhile, North Korea is an obvious outlier in East Asia. The Hermit Kingdom’s lack of electrification isn’t just conspicuous in the data — it’s even visible from space. The border between the two Koreas is clearly visible where the dark expanse of North Korea runs up against the glow of South Korea’s urban areas.

It’s been estimated that more than half of North Korea’s people are living in energy poverty.

Africa’s Access to Electricity

In 1995, a mere 20% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population had access to power. While today’s figure is above 40%, that still means roughly 600 million people in the region are living without access to electricity.

Not surprisingly, energy poverty disproportionately impacts rural Africans. Nearly all of the countries with the lowest levels of electricity access have rural-majority populations:

Global RankCountryElectricity AccessRural Population
#197🇧🇮 Burundi9%87%
#196🇹🇩 Chad11%77%
#195🇲🇼 Malawi13%83%
#194🇨🇩 D.R.C.19%56%
#193🇳🇪 Niger20%84%
#192🇱🇷 Liberia21%49%
#191🇺🇬 Uganda22%77%
#190🇸🇱 Sierra Leone23%58%
#189🇲🇬 Madagascar24%63%
#188🇧🇫 Burkina Faso25%71%

Nonexistent and unreliable electricity isn’t just an issue confined to rural Africa. Even Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy — has an electrification rate of just 54%.

Where there is an electrical grid, instability is also causing problems. A recent survey found that a majority of Nigerian tech firms face 30 or more power outages per month, and more than half ranked electricity as a “major” or “severe” constraint to doing business.

This is pattern that is repeated in a number of countries in Africa:

reliability of electricity africa

Mini-Grids, Big Impact

It has taken an average of 25 years for countries to move from 20% to 80% access, so history suggests that it may be a number of years before sub-Saharan Africa fully catches up with other parts of the world. That said, Vietnam was able to close that gap in only nine years.

Traditional utility companies continue to make inroads in the region, but it might be a smaller-scale solution that brings electricity to people in harder-to-reach rural villages.

Between 2009 and 2015, solar PV module prices fell by 80%, ushering in a new era of affordability. Solar powered mini-grids don’t just have the potential to bring electricity to new markets, it can also replace the diesel-powered generators commonly used in Africa.

For the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who are still unable to fully participate in the modern world, these innovations can’t come soon enough.

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