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New power source - conservation

by MarekNYC Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 07:58:15 AM EST

There has been a lot of debate here on how to reduce GHG emissions, at times quite acrimonious. The two hottest points of contention have concerned nuclear power and the related question of whether one can have meaningful reductions without drastic changes to Western lifestyles.  I have been saying that we can, and while I am lukewarmly in favour of greater use of nuclear power and strongly supportive of large increases in renewables, the key to reducing GHG emissions is conservation.

From the diaries -- whataboutbob

Let us imagine the US cutting its use of gas for personal transport by half, and doing the same with electricity. I think we can all agree that that would qualify as a substantial reduction, though not necessarily enough in the longer term.  

Currently the average personal vehicle in the US has a mileage rating of about 20mpg (cars and light trucks combined). Given current technology and using smaller cars one could easily double that, reducing gasoline use by half without the slightest change to the 'American Way of Life'(TM).  We're even producing cars like that at this very moment.

What about electricity you might ask? How can we cut that in half?  Well, right now Californians have a per capita electricity consumption only one half that of the rest of the country. (About 6700 kWh in California, about 12,500 kWh for the country as a whole, including California). The difference has its roots in a longstanding policy of promoting conservation that began in the late sixties and is continuing to this day. Yet, somehow, the Californian way of life remains a pretty typical suburban centered American one.

So, with no renewables, no nuclear, no lifestyle changes you can cut GHG emissions by an enormous amount. It's safe to say that one could even cut it by more - 40mpg is not the upper limit for cars, nor has California run out of ways of improving its electricity consumption efficiency.  Once we start adding in non-GHG emitting energy sources and some modest lifestyle changes the potential for reducing GHG emissions is enormous.  

As fun as it might be to bash the Greenpeacy anti-nuke folks, those who are serious about climate change should perhaps devote some of their scientific and ranting skills to conservation. And the doomsayers saying the only solution is a return to huddling in huts living off subsistence agriculture should relax a bit, and maybe even consider what a few billion extra peasants would do to the environment (yum, food!, yay, heat!)

how can all those guys with small penises compensate if they can't drive Hummers?

Given my fellow American's love for big cars, it's going to take a price shock to make this happen.  Just a matter of time.  

Otherwise, couldn't agree more.  This is why I don't buy the Kunstler disaster scenario.  We can easily chop 25% of our crude oil use just by driving Geos instead of Escalades.  No other change in lifestyle required.

by HiD on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 12:08:51 AM EST
I usually come out in favor of conservation and lifestyle change, so I'm going to suggest looking at technology.

I think several existing recent technological changes could have a big impact on resource use. For example the sale of music CD's in the UK dropped by 10% last year. People are downloading music instead. The implications are less raw material use to make the discs, less transport to deliver them and purchase them in stores, less need for retail stores and warehouses, etc.

We may shortly see the same thing happen with movies.

If the governments would sponsor some R&D to produce an acceptable electronic book reader we might see a large decline in the use of paper. Just eliminating daily newspapers and magazines would cut resource usage greatly.

I've proposed before a system of micro-cars which would be driven on to flatbed trains for long distance travel  and daily commuting. People would stay in their vehicles which would be powered by electric connections on the train so that they would have light, climate control and media access while in transit. The cars would be driven short distances at each end.

The problem is that existing industries have no incentives to support developments which threaten their current business models. This is why the R&D needs to be done using government-sponsored projects.

Buildings use a substantial amount of energy. This could be reduced by mandating strict building codes and by promoting upgrades to existing structures via various subsidies.

Jerome and I differ on changing travel behavior via taxes. He is in favor of raising the fuel tax while I'm in favor of a vehicle inefficiency tax imposed at the time of purchase. Neither is likely as long as the big three US car makers continue to have government support for their current lines of gas guzzlers.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:01:21 AM EST
I've proposed before a system of micro-cars which would be driven on to flatbed trains for long distance travel  and daily commuting.

How micro are those micro cars?

The problem with such schemes (and it has been proposed many times by different people) is that it marries the disantvantages of road and trains. Issues are:

  • with the cars on the flatbed, you have what necessitates traffic jam loaded unto the train: the unit train length per person is much lower, also meaning that much longer or much more frequent trains would be needed - yet even today when trains thickly packed with humans compete with road, railways have to resort to measures like double-deck trains to increase capacity on the busiest lines;
  • loading/unloading speed - I can hardly imagine it to be faster than people hopping on/off a train with many doors (note that loading/unloading speed is a problem with double-deck trains);
  • with cars (re)entering the road system at points in time and space, you'll have hotpoints for traffic jams.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:58:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Those microcars are called bicycles or scooters.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 10:09:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Several things could be done to make loading/unloading quicker. For example the side of the rail car could fold down into a ramp so that all cars drive down in parallel and then merge into the exit.

Another thing is to load rail cars on a siding as people arrive and then have the flatbed car added to the train when it departs the station.

I'm envisioning a vehicle smaller than the current "smart car".

Of course the cost of travel would be much greater than just sitting in a regular passenger compartment. So many people might just use the micro-car to drive to the station and then park as usual.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 10:28:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You might find this interesting... In Amsterdam, they have a pilot project for transporting cargo on trams.


What you write is interesting for modern cities - but Europe is swamped with historic city-centers. A complete re-design of the historic city-roads will probably not be looked on favourably.

by Nomad on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 10:51:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you can already put a car on the train from NY to Miami.

For other routes the problem will be our train system is currently only suitable for freight for the most part.  It will take a lot of investment to put it in a shape to do this sort of thing.  

I'd guess train travel + rent a car on the other end (like now) makes more sense.  Why haul the micro car all over?

by HiD on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 05:28:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The loading on siding model is how auto-transporting tourist trains do it today in Europe. It is alright for long-distance on specific point-to-point routes in small amounts, but to replace highways, problematic. It is infrastructure-intensive and waiting is included while cars gather to board the train. Something like the Eurotunnel terminal in every city would be needed to replace highways, and that only inter-city, the many exists of a highway would be options lost.

The sideways loading/unloading is more in the right direction, for both of your intended uses (commuter and long-distance). But it still needs significant new infrastructure (elevated service roads along each station), the sides-turning-ramps mechanism would need to be very robust (at most one failure in one million operations, but best under one in one billion), and the loading/unloading time standards to achieve would be two minutes for long-distance and half a minute (or less) in commuter service. (That's time for sides turning ramps, cars rolling off, cars rolling on, ramps turning sides.)

I don't say the idea is completely hopeless, after all, France and Italy are trying a new truck transport system that involves sideways rotating platforms on the special cars so that all trucks can roll on/off the train simultaneously. But it is very difficult to make on a level competitive with normal rail passenger transport.

Regarding the smart, it seats two people and is 2.5 metres long. Even allowing for two cars abreast (barely possible in the USA and Scandinavia and the ex-Soviet broad-gauge networks, not in Europe or Japan), and no space between cars, that's 1.6 passengers per metre. Even a comfortable (only 3 seats abreast) compartment (walls and no utilisation of space under next seat) first-class car comes in at 2.05 passenger per metre, while double-deck commuter cars can reach values of up to 6.5 seats per metre. Now you could have double-deck car transporter cars, but that would call for more infrastructure (especially in the sideways loading/unloading model).

Personally, I'm with Migeru and hooray for bicyles.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 05:49:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More pictures:

Sidings with loading ramps for car-transporting tourist trains in Narbonne/France:

Sketch of the Modalohr system of the AFA (transporting trucks from the French Alps to near Turin/Italy):

The French terminal during operation:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 06:13:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was imagining a system where the cars would be driven on to the flatbed and remain perpendicular to the direction of travel. There wouldn't need to be ramps if the loading platforms were at the right hight just a telescoping piece to bridge the gap between the platform and the car.

Drive on on one side and then drive off the other. As for the cost, it is just a matter of priorities. The Long Island Expressway near my home was just widened to four lanes each way by adding a HOV lane. This required replacing about 30 overpass bridges among other things. I can't find the exact cost, but I seem to remember that the last five miles cost about $450 million. The full 30 mile expansion was in the billions. The HOV lane is underutilized. This was all part of a scam so that in a few years they can claim that it isn't being used enough and then turn it back over to regular traffic.

Discussions about putting a monorail down the median (which would have had plenty of room as has just been demonstrated) were dismissed for the past 30 years. Instead traffic in the region has doubled during the period.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 06:41:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A colleague of mine at the IPE was due at a trade show in Milan.

He decided he'd combine it with a holiday, and took his car and the missus. He loaded the car onto the train at Calais and drove it off at Milan (or Torino or wherever), no problem.

When he came back to Calais, he got a shock. The entire top, front and back of the car were burnt black. His plastic luggage in the boot was melted to slag.

With Gallic indifference, the disembarkation staff waved them off. The car was a total write-off and was going nowhere other than the parking lot in the sky.

What had happened was that the car had been on the top deck and the radio aerial - which had been depressed by the slipstream going out - was consistently shooting x,000 volts through the car all the way back.

Colleague said what surprised him most was the complete blithe indifference of the staff - as though it was HIS fault....

All good stuff

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 07:03:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure I understand "depressed by the slipstream going out" correctly, but it does indeed seem to be his own fault of not removing the antenna. Though, the Italian loading staff could have checked all cars on the train.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 01:28:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
driven on to the flatbed and remain perpendicular to the direction of travel

That's neither comfortable nor safe. Passengers should be seated in the dominant direction of accelerations. But it is possible to make small cars that can turn on the spot. If you could make ones in which only the passenger compartment turns, your solution would be more practicable. However, the passengers per metre number would still be lower than two cars abreast.

More replies later.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 01:33:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To continue the previous reply. The most realistic configuration (forward-looking cars not much shorter than smarts one abreast, with some space between them, no minicars on railway car ends) would be around 0,65 passengers per metre (about a tenth of the maximum for double-deck trains). If minicar passenger compartments could be rotated and minicars could be fastened to holdings above their center of gravity, 1.1-1.2 passengers/m would be possible.

There wouldn't need to be ramps if the loading platforms were at the right hight

That's what I meant with 'elevated service road'. That's a significant infrastructure need. While building elevated platforms is already a significant investment for railways today, the minicar-piggybacking system would need much longer, wider, somewhat higher (most elevated platforms today are in the 0.56-0.96 m range, for cars you'd need 0.8-1.2 m) platforms that can bear much higher point loads.

Drive on on one side and then drive off the other.

This is indeed sensible (though note, it excludes the possibility of two cars abreast). But it also brings added problems: it necessitates twice as many platforms, which are already wider than present-day ones for walkers, which makes stations on two-track lines very wide - in existing crowded cities, that would necessitate the tearing down of houses and roads along the railway, impossible in historical cities as Nomad pointed out.

As for the cost, it is just a matter of priorities.

Not only. While I welcome your cost argument with that highway example, note that due to the significantly higher weight/seat ratio of piggyback car-transporting trains than normal passenger trains, it is also an energy costs question.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:35:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
so much effort and energy and creativity trying to duct-tape around a hopeless technology (the private automobile).  is the car our servant, our master, or our God?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:10:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
how about  we melt down all the old tanks and howitzers and hummers and the like and remold them into solar/wind powered train carriages?

i'd like to see electric tractors promoted.

apparently they work  very well.


Plenty of electric tractors have been made over the years. A late 1800's Scientific American article showed farm tractors in South America being run on electricity from overhead wires, cultivating large fields. More recent versions, built for college research projects or in regular production, are all battery powered for greater independence. The extra weight of batteries and low-end torque of electric motors are great features for a tractor. Electric motors don't waste any energy when you aren't moving and the torque is greatest when you first start moving, right when you need it the most. As a result, electric tractors are known to beat the gassers in tractor pulls. I own a 30-year-old "Elec-Trak" and have been very impressed by its performance (see next section).

Electric tractors for towing and for lawn care are fairly easy to come by, with several models now on the market. The larger electric machines, with 10-15 horsepower motors can rival the power of a small cultivating tractor and be used for a variety of agricultural purposes. They are generally limited more by traction and ground clearance than by strength (www.econogics.com/ev/evtools.htm).

One of the more versatile electric tractors in production is the "Electric Ox" manufactured in Canada. Available with a limited selection of accessories, it can mow, sweep, grade and plow. It can tow any cart, spreader, or other implement with a standard hitch socket. With some creative welding, it could likely pull any sleeve-hitch ag implement as well. The Ox has a top speed of 5 mph, a fiberglass body over a steel frame, dual motors, electronic speed control with regenerative braking, uses 6 deep-cycle golf cart batteries, and weighs 760 pounds. It can mow for about half a day on one charge or tow for up to a full day, depending on the load. The tractor alone costs $6400 - $6800 depending on the model, and accessories are extra. The manufacturer reports that their dealers in British Columbia have been active in the local organic market (Electric Tractor Corporation, 877-533-4333, www.electricox.com).


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:30:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Present worldwide nuclear power is the same as total electricity generation in the 60's if I am not mistaken...

This is why it is very difficult to foresee a collapse due to the lack of energy... a collapse in private transport, of course it could happen (other than that...this is a liquid fuels crisis not an energy one).

SO the real problem is global warming...no-coal, no private-transport (or less, conservation) and renewable are my priorities.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:25:43 AM EST
at a rapidly reducing price, the liquid fuel crisis becomes a battery disposal problem.  If i had an electric vehicle that had a daily range of 100 miles I'd never have to buy gas again.  I'd guess 75%+ of Americans could get by on 100 mile range.  at 200 it would be over 90%.

But agree, if the electricity comes from coal, coastal dwellers better learn to tread water.

by HiD on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 05:31:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As heartily as I agree with the general tune of your diary, I have to point out the problem with this:

Well, right now Californians have a per capita electricity consumption only one half that of the rest of the country. (About 6700 kWh in California, about 12,500 kWh for the country as a whole, including California).

This per capita consumption includes share in industrial and business consumption, not just households (and probably climatic effects too -- say lights needed for more time towards the North, which may explain that Scandinavian countries lead in Europe). If California has only a few iron and aluminium smelters and car factories or other energy-intensive industry, or was a disproportionate victim of industrial outsourcing, then that may explain part of the fall behind the national average.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:48:44 AM EST
In Maastricht I am riding my bicycle. :) For small distances it works fine.

And my westernized Turkish host taught me to switch off the light when I leave a room.

Conservation is indeed important. I believe that we should look at it also in terms of keeping the energy produced in our houses for our needs. The so called passive houses are a great example of how more efficient buildings can be. Look at the ventilation system, for instance. The air that goes out may heat/cool (depending on the season) the air that comes in the house through a heat recuperator.

-- Fighting my own apathy..

by Naneva (mnaneva at gmail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 11:47:26 AM EST
An interesting website, which can teach your children in an interactive way how to conserve energy:
ManagEnergy KidsCorner

-- Fighting my own apathy..
by Naneva (mnaneva at gmail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 11:56:44 AM EST
Just keep the away from this


by Torres on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 12:12:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Torres on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 12:12:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...as starvation is to food.

I'd appreciate it if you were honest enough to clearly state that you are not actually talking about a power source.

by ustenzel on Sun Jan 14th, 2007 at 09:27:39 PM EST

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