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The New Environmentalism: Long-Range Transportation

by Egarwaen Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:29:32 PM EST

The Way We Do Things Now

Like our short-range transportation, modern long-range transportation is very reliant on cheap oil. Both the United States and Canada are webbed with a massive continental highway system. Jet airliners gulp down massive amounts of fuel as they race between major cities with humans crammed into uncomfortable seats. Massive cargo vessels move shipping containers between ports. Diesel locomotives haul long trains of containers from said ports to their final destinations.

Once again, we see the same factors at work: a reliance on cheap, high-pollution energy; an unseemly obsession with speed over comfort or safety; and transportation over unnecessarily long distances. With the age of cheap oil drawing to a close, things are obviously going to have to change. But how?

Back from the front page


This is another diary in the continuing "New Environmentalism" series from Booman Tribune. In this series, we're going to be looking at ways to change the way we live and work - sometimes significantly - in order to live in harmony with our environment.

Goals of the New Environmentalism: devise a practical, realistic vision for a sustainable future and a plan for moving from our modern society to a sustainable society. In this society, we claim that the proper goal of economic activity is not growth but, rather, human happiness.

Knoxville Progressive and I encourage you to contact either of us by email if you'd like to be a contributor to this series (post a diary / host a discussion).

In one of the first diaries in the series, we looked at short-range transportation within a city. We saw that this could be managed without automobiles (though further reading has shown that biodiesel-powered busses are more feasible than I thought at the time) through a well-constructed public transit network. Now we're going to look at long-distance movement, both of goods and people.

Cross-posted from Booman Tribune: Original Diary.

Terrestrial Transportation

Most inter-city transportation is best accomplished by sticking solidly to the ground. While it may be slower than flying, it's also cheaper and less polluting and disruptive. We can manage this without recourse to highways by using the same methods our not-so-distant ancestors relied on: trains!

While they've fallen out of fashion in North America of late, other countries still have functional and modern rail networks. France and Japan immediately spring to mind, and are the countries with the most famous high-speed rail networks, but Italy, Spain, Germany, and South Korea also have extensive high-speed rail networks. For the purposes of this article, I'll be focusing on the Japanese Shinkansen and the French TGV, as they're the ones I'm the most familiar with.

Instead of the diesel locomotives common in North America, both the Shinkansen and the TGV are electrified - like metros, the locomotives draw their power from an external electric grid, rather than generating their own power. This has the same advantages as it does for the metro. Not only can the trains travel more quickly and more efficiently, as they don't have to carry fuel with them and can have lighter engines, but there's greater freedom in the methods used to generate the electricity. This makes these trains a very good match for green energy initiatives.

Safety on both lines is very high. The Shinkansen has never been the cause of a fatality since it began operating in 1964. Even the massive October 2004 earthquake did not even cause any injuries when it derailed a train near the epicentre of the quake! The TGV has a similarly impressive service record, and TGV trains have even derailed without harm to passengers thanks to their rigid construction. This record is significantly better than both automobiles and airplanes, and given the volume of traffic that both lines service, there is no reason that similar arrangements elsewhere in the world could not have similarly impressive safety records with appropriate time and money investments.

Trains have several other major advantages over air travel. Air travel is generally non-stop, because landings are time-consuming. Trains can have many stops along their routes without significantly increasing their travel time. They can also be much more comfortable. While space and weight are at a premium on airliners, trains are more flexible in this regard. The Shinkansen, for example, has cabins similar in design to airliners, even down to the seat designs, to allow it to transport as many people as possible. Even here, though, we can see some differences - larger windows, for example, or more visually interesting cabin designs. The TGV, on the other hand, has both airline-style seating and more traditional railway cabin-style. Most TGV trains also have a bar carriage. Trains can also remain linked into information networks throughout the course of their journey, making rapid travel slightly less of a necessity.

While I've focused on high-speed trains so far, not all train service needs to be high-speed. Slower trains, while less convenient, may have other advantages, including reduced cost of operation, simpler engineering, further improved safety, reduced environmental footprint, and increased passenger comfort. This isn't a fundamental problem, but one of engineering and economics - which solution is best-suited for the circumstances and resources of a particular area.

One disadvantage of passenger rail over highways is that commuters lose some of the freedom of automobiles. This makes accessing smaller rural communities, which are unlikely to lie on or rate a full rail line, more difficult. The solution to this is smaller branch lines, using Dayliners or DMUs. Dayliner/DMU lines can run from regional hubs to rural town/village centres, from which residents and visitors can use more conventional automobile-style transport. (Presumably biodiesel powered) While the existing models I've linked above are diesel-powered, there's no reason why these branch lines can't draw off an electrical grid like the "arterial" high-speed trains.

Sailing the Ocean Blue

Ocean passenger service has diminished in favour of air travel, but ocean cargo service is still going as strong as ever. And, unfortunately, as dirty as ever. Emission standards for the diesel engines used in oceangoing vessels are lower even than those for cars and trucks. Combined with the rising cost of oil, this creates a serious problem.

Unlike land transportation, there's no real easy solution here. hybrid vehicles, combining advanced "sail" designs with diesel engines, can save up to 27% of the fuel consumption on North Atlantic runs. Unfortunately, these ships are much less effective on runs in the Indian Ocean, and actually use more fuel than a more conventional design due to lower wind speed. The engineers producing them are also looking at other designs with improved fuel economy. Some achieve it by running at lower speeds, but these are only suitable for non-time-critical cargoes, a mere 20% of all cargoes worldwide.

For oceangoing cargo transportation, we may simply have to accept that the days of cheap, fast, high-volume transportation are over. I'll say more about this in coming sections. There seems to me to be some potential for cargo ships using solar-powered or battery-powered electric engines, but I doubt they would be viable for long-distance, high-volume, or high-speed routes. Purely wind-powered vessels may be viable, but would probably be much slower than the alternatives. One interesting possibility is nuclear-powered vessels. While not economically viable historically, modern reactor designs combined with the rising price of oil may change that. Of course, this puts even more strain on the limited supply of economically viable sources of nuclear fissionables...

Passenger shipping has been largely dead since the 1960s, when it was supplanted by aircraft. If the propulsion problem can be solved, passenger shipping may be worth reviving for slower intercontinental journeys. Passengers would probably be able to travel in relative comfort, and the ships should be able to be designed for comfort without being overly luxurious, thus remaining affordable. Ocean liners, like trains, can be tied into a global information network more easily than aircraft and cars, making these long trips more tolerable.

Flying Through the Sky

Even though jet airliners are only economical because of cheap oil, the end of cheap oil doesn't mean that we have to abandon air travel. Short-range fuel cell-powered aircraft will probably still be useful for emergencies. For real transportation, we may have to resurrect another of the favourites of a bygone age: the zeppelin! Back in the early 20th century, zeppelins were the method of choice for travelling quickly and in style. They could make intercontinental flights faster than ocean liners, and could carry reasonable amounts of cargo (mostly mail) in addition to their passengers.

The end of the zeppelin age came for two reasons. The first was the rise of cheaper, faster (but less comfortable) powered flight. The second was the Hindenburg disaster. While the final causes are disputed by some, and attempted investigations have proved inconclusive, it's fairly certain that hydrogen zeppelins are a bad idea. Fortunately, helium works perfectly well, and is much safer.

Because jet airliners are still so cheap to operate, no company has attempted to build a large scale, long-range passenger zeppelin with modern technology. Several smaller ones have been constructed, such as the NT-7, a small zeppelin design produced by the German Zeppelin Company. It caps out at 12 passengers and two crew, but it's still an impressive piece of engineering.

Green zeppelin designs seem to have a lot of potential. Their lighter-than-air construction means that, even fully loaded, it takes very little energy to keep them in the air. (Though most do need to use their engines to stay airborne when fully loaded) The upper hull of the zeppelin also has a large surface area that is almost constantly exposed to sunlight, and so might be profitably coated with solar panels. Although trips would be longer, passenger accommodations would probably be more comfortable than those on modern airliners.

Like ships and trains, zeppelins have a major advantage over modern air transport in that they can be tied into an information network more easily, due to their lower speed.

Avoiding Transportation

The final note I want to hit in this diary: the end of the era of cheap oil means we're going to have to change the way we use transportation. Right now, we use it somewhat wastefully. Corporate executives and businessmen hop about on airplanes, travelling between face-to-face meetings. Corporations spread their activities out over the world to take advantage of cheap labour, and use cheap transportation to move goods (and executives) between installations.

Much of this is going to have to change. More manufacturing and processing is going to have to be done at the local level, using as many local resources as possible. This means that local operations are going to have to diversify again. Most trade will probably be in raw (or recycled) materials and other non-time-sensitive bulk goods, which can afford to take a while to get where they're going.

For people, we're just going to have to get used to moving around less. Vacations, moving, and trips to visit family will probably still be economical. The current "business" travel model is probably not sustainable. It's also not necessary. Modern advances in information technology allow for cheap, effective teleconferencing. Apple's iSight/iChat is the only one I have experience with, but other projects are in the works. GAIM, the excellent open source IM application, is working on adding video and voice support, and expects to have a working implementation in the near future.

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by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 03:28:52 PM EST
Thanks for posting! This week's diary, incidentally also on high-speed (Italian high-speed), is up too: Alta Velocità.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 08:05:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo, I'll let you do the front paging on the topic - these are two worthy diaries...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 08:32:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, Colman did the frontpaging before I returned to ET :-)

I think my diary should be promoted in the evening as the last post before the Breakfast thread, and I would have done those promotions (no longer having a French course Monday evenings) had one or another other frontpager not preempted me every time in previous weeks :-)

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:23:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's already well understood what's wrong with trains (they don't go where you want to go, or when you want to go) and ships (too slow), but what's wrong, exactly, with cars?
by asdf on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 04:23:38 PM EST

You mean besides the obvious? That they almost certainly rely on oil to be economically viable, take up a lot of space, are slow and prone to congestion, and are more than a little dangerous?

Yes, I'm aware of the alternative fuels that are trumpeted as being able to replace oil. I don't think any are going to go anywhere or, rather, that we shouldn't rely on them going anywhere. Hydrogen, for example, has serious transportation and storage issues, never mind the problems with making the stuff. Hydrogen fuel cells have similar problems, and add a reliance on some very rare elements. Biodiesel has volume problems - it could probably run a fleet of busses, but not a fleet of cars like most nations currently sport. Batteries... Grid-charged batteries might work. But again, I suspect there's a lurking volume issue, and we still haven't resolved the safety and space issues.

The purpose of this series of diaries is to address the objection that a green society isn't viable, or requires major (and unpleasant) changes to the ways we live our lives. In general, Knoxville Progressive and I are sort of looking at "best worst case" scenarios, and toying with different ways we could do things while maintaining a green lifestyle not entirely unlike the one we have now. (And better in many ways) We're trying to deal with, for example, the notion that a green society can't exist because everyone would have to bicycle everywhere.

by Egarwaen on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 08:30:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to me that politicians tend to jump to conclusions about what the best solution might be before they have really defined the problem. For example, if the problem is excessive use of oil, there might be ways around that that would allow people to continue driving SUVs if they want to. Same thing with CO2 emissions, safety, congestion, etc.

The political community should define what problems they want to solve, and then let the marketplace and technologists figure out the best solution.

I have as romantic an attraction to trains as anybody, but I've also lived in several situations where trains were the only way to make long distance trips. The reality of it is that if you want to go from random point A to random point B at random time T, even the best railroad system is going to be awkward and slow in comparison to the automobile--at least for trips up to perhaps 1000 miles. There is economic value in the routing and scheduling flexibility that you get from cars, and that needs to be factored into the replacement system.

by asdf on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 08:39:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems to me that politicians tend to jump to conclusions about what the best solution might be before they have really defined the problem. For example, if the problem is excessive use of oil, there might be ways around that that would allow people to continue driving SUVs if they want to. Same thing with CO2 emissions, safety, congestion, etc.

Not really. Seriously. The fundamental problem here is that we have an incredibly limited supply of oil. And oil is the most dense, readily-available source of energy we've found. Oh, there are alternatives for general use, but the problem is that they still don't work for car-type things. Car-type things have to haul an engine and a fuel supply around with them. That puts serious constraints on what you can use for both, and introduces a lot of inefficiencies into the system. (It's the "rocket problem" - making a rocket go faster or farther is a lot more difficult than it appears at first glance, as any physics student will tell you. The rocket has to drag its fuel around with it, and adding more fuel gets you into a kind of downward spiral unless you manage it very carefully.)

Trains don't have this problem, as they only have to haul their engine around with them. They can draw their "fuel" from the electrical grid, because they follow very well-defined routes.

The political community should define what problems they want to solve, and then let the marketplace and technologists figure out the best solution.

We've been trying that for the past thirty years. It hasn't worked so well.

The other point of this diary series is that "technologists" have solved many of the problems. The Britist government's recent report on climate change, among others, makes this very clear. The factors holding back green change are not technological. They're cultural, industrial, and economic: the media emphasizes an unsustainable lifestyle, leaders of industry don't want to deal with the high short-term investment required for change, and oil's externalities are not properly accounted for, making it seem significantly cheaper than it is.

The reality of it is that if you want to go from random point A to random point B at random time T, even the best railroad system is going to be awkward and slow in comparison to the automobile--at least for trips up to perhaps 1000 miles.

1000 miles is a trip of more than half a day on a good highway. I'd rather take a good train system for that, especially one like the Shinkansen. Heck, for anything outside "the city" (the reach of the public transit network), a train system isn't so bad, especially if there's trains departing throughout the day. I'm also going to dispute the random time T assumption as unrealistic. People very rarely get up and say "You know, I think I'm going to want to leave on a trip to point R, 1000 miles away, at exactly 11:33 AM this morning." You plan your trip based on available transportation and what you need to do, and neither of these is exactly random.

When I was younger, VIA Rail used to run a "dayliner" service between the town my family was living in and Halifax. It left early in the morning and returned later in the afternoon. (And I think they had another pair going the other way) That's a trip of... Hm. An hour and a half, maybe two hours, in a car. The dayliners were pretty busy, even though people could drive, because they were actually more convenient for many people going for "a day in the city". (They got shut down due to a combination of VIA Rail getting used as a political football and town council officials along the route who owned gas stations and car dealership wanting them gone.)

by Egarwaen on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 10:16:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Car-type things have to haul an engine and a fuel supply around with them.

Perhaps we have a different definition of "car-type thing." Can one imagine an electric car with an inductive electric pickup that gets its energy from under the highway?

People very rarely get up and say "You know, I think I'm going to want to leave on a trip to point R, 1000 miles away, at exactly 11:33 AM this morning."

Perhaps this is true, but there is an economic cost to that lack of freedom. How does this cost get factored in?

I think a better approach is the CO2 management system suggested here that leaves the tradeoff between trains and cars to the consumer.

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 09:02:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can imagine such a thing, but I can't see it being an efficient use of resources. How much exotic material would you need to make that sort of system? I rather suspect that we're stuck with a fifty year window between running out of cheap oil and having the technology to do without it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 09:57:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The technology that asdf is asking about already exists. It's called a "trolleycar", that is a trolleybus with a car form factor.

That would be a way for electrical cars to refuel in transit.

Asdf's transducing car has no "freedom" advantage over trains in that it still needs to run on a dedicated road. The real advantage of cars in that respect is that it allows off-roading. There's also the individual freedom aspect of "this is my own vehicle I'm riding".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:12:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I sort of assumed a system where all the roads we have now are turned into induction roads. I wouldn't see the point otherwise.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:25:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most roads do have electrical transmission lines running along them, especially in rural areas.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:28:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It doesn't take exotic materials (http://www.wampfler.com/INDEX.asp?lang=2&page=31,1,32&zuf=0.5012981482920433), but even if it did, that's not the point. The point is that the car-like thing delivers freedom of origin, destination, and schedule that you don't get with train-like things.

A better idea, in my opinion, is for government to say "ok, we're going to put a tax of x% on the CO2 equivalent of each energy source, based on our understanding of the social (environmental) costs, and let the market choose whether to implement car-like or train-like things."

The energy efficiency of trains versus cars is a very complex thing to analyze, and it's not obvious that trains are actually better than cars--even after allowing for their routing and scheduling inflexibility.

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:29:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is that the car-like thing delivers freedom of origin, destination, and schedule that you don't get with train-like things

and congestion. You can't awoid that.

The energy efficiency of trains versus cars is a very complex thing to analyze

Really? Could you elaborate on this? From everything I read, trains are much more energy-efficient than cars, primarily because of economies of scale. Even for high-speed trains, I recall equivalent figures at average seating in the range of the PSA diesel hybrid Jérôme blogged about.

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:34:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not only economies of scale. The amount of energy lost to friction differs by orders of magnitude.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:38:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The freedom of origin, destination and schedule that you stress come from private ownership of the vehicles, which is the primary source of energy inefficiency when measured not in distance/energy but in payload*distance/energy (e.g., miles-person per gallon instead of miles per gallon).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:40:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure about the congestion point. There has not been a railroad system that supported anything like the volume of travel that is currently supported by the automobile.

I think one must be careful about the train versus car efficiency argument. Trains, for example, are big. You get a dining car, aisles to walk around in, lots of extra space that you don't get in a car--and that needs to be carried around with the people. Also, the fixed A-to-B routing with intermediate stops means that at the ends of the run the train may be mostly empty--something every tram or train commuter is familiar with. And it's true that steel wheels on steel rails have very low friction, but low rolling resistance car tires have low friction--and it's a space that has not been fully explored by the technologists.

But again, the point is that perhaps trains ARE more energy-efficient than cars, but even so, if people are willing to pay more to have the flexibility of the car, it is worthwhile to allow that--if in both cases they meet the broad social objectives.

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:05:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the end the point is that energy is not properly priced, but in many cases subsidized. And in the case of nonrenewable energy sources, the cost of depletion is something that can hardly even be estimated. Just because a cost cannot be estimated doesn't mean it's not zero.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:08:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I mean just because a cost cannot be estimated doesn't mean it's zero.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:09:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure about the congestion point. There has not been a railroad system that supported anything like the volume of travel that is currently supported by the automobile.

Really? I think that you didn't read the linked resources carefully enough. Between 1964 and 1976, the Shinkansen managed about a hundred million passengers a year. By 2004, the segment of the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka has carried 4.16 billion passengers. This is for long-distance inter-city transport, remember, so we're not competing with all car use, merely a subset of it combined with inter-city busses and continental airline flights. Intra-city transport is better accomplished by metros, light rail, or even bus networks.

I think one must be careful about the train versus car efficiency argument. Trains, for example, are big. You get a dining car, aisles to walk around in, lots of extra space that you don't get in a car--and that needs to be carried around with the people.

No, actually, you don't need any of the above. And in fact, hauling that stuff around is still plenty efficient. Remember, cars are subject to a massive inefficiency because they have to haul their fuel around with them. Trains don't have this problem, which gives them a lot of wiggle room, especially on long journeys.

Also, the fixed A-to-B routing with intermediate stops means that at the ends of the run the train may be mostly empty--something every tram or train commuter is familiar with. And it's true that steel wheels on steel rails have very low friction, but low rolling resistance car tires have low friction--and it's a space that has not been fully explored by the technologists.

Most of the passengers on most trains for a fixed, long-distance A-to-B route will be travelling between A and B. Moot point. The friction is also a moot point - even if the car's wheels can achieve the same efficiency as rail wheels, it'll still be worse than a maglev, and the car will still have to haul its fuel around with it. You can't just wave the magical technologist wand and say "cars will be better".

But again, the point is that perhaps trains ARE more energy-efficient than cars, but even so, if people are willing to pay more to have the flexibility of the car, it is worthwhile to allow that--if in both cases they meet the broad social objectives.

They don't. Cars rely on oil. Oil is limited in quantity. Oil is really dirty. We need - and have - a reliable alternative.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:39:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think one must be careful about the train versus car efficiency argument. Trains, for example, are big. You get a dining car, aisles to walk around in, lots of extra space that you don't get in a car--and that needs to be carried around with the people.

Let me turn this into a point that actually carries weight (because, carrying empty space, cost nothing). Indeed it is true that while on a modern train with average filling (40-50%), you have roughly 1 ton for 1 passenger, while for a car (a car not a SUV), you have that when just the driver sits in it.

However, mass is the main factor only when you accelerate. At constant speed, friction is the factor, and trains rule. But even acceleration doesn't really make them worse. On one hand, trains typically gain speed/brake with much lower accelerations (no 100 km/h in ten seconds). On the other hand, modern electric trains (especially those using a lower-than-grid-frequency separate railway AC system, say the 16.7 Hz in Germanic and Scandinavian countries) have regenerative electric brakes, and send much of the braking energy back to the catenary - which can have a greater efficiency than even hybrid cars that recharge themselves while braking. (There are also experiments with adding gyros to diesels for similar short-term energy conservation.)

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:04:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
trains typically gain speed/brake with much lower accelerations

Sorry about that, of course that is irrelevant - the energy input is the same. However, there is a further pointof how often acceleration/deceleration takes place - with street lights and tunrs at corners, I think cars are ahead even if trains have many stops.

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:08:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Yes. The main killer for cars, even on highway driving, is the frequency of acceleration. Trains have very smooth acceleration/deceleration profiles, which makes them easy to optimize. When they don't, something has generally gone very wrong.

With cars... Well, think about how you drive on the highway. Your speed's usually about the speed limit. Sometimes you drift a little higher, sometimes a little lower. Sometimes you make really sharp changes in speed, like when you come over that hill and see Granny McBloggs putting along at a positively mind-boggling 50 km/h, and again when you pull out to try and pass her. It's better than city driving, but it's still pretty nasty compared to a good train system.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:01:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With cars... Well, think about how you drive on the highway.

I know this is a rhetorical "you", but let it be noted that I don't drive a car :-)

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:25:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]

How one drives on the highway. Happy?

I don't either, though I do know how to drive. So I do sort of know what I'm talking about when I talk about relying on public transportation. ;)

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:54:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hear the arguments pro and con, but still we are missing the point, which is that the anti-car sentiment must be separated from the anti-CO2 emissions argument.

  • Cars need not carry their fuel with them, as already discussed. Even if they do, battery technology improves constantly. According to this article batteries on the brink of commercial availability are five times better than the best ones available right now. That translates into about a 500 mile range for a GM EV-1 car.
  • "Think about the way you drive" doesn't prove anything, because we shouldn't be talking about future perfect trains compared to today's cars. If slow acceleration is important--and as a hybrid driver I assure you that it is, because of hysterisis loss in the rubber of the tires--then change the way cars accelerate. That's why the 2CV can pass me in the morning.
  • No particularly good statistic about long distance car travel leaps immediately to mind, but the seven lane Tappan Zee bridge in New York, on a route perhaps comparable to the sort that a high speed interstate railroad might take, carries 135,000 cars per day. If there are perhaps 1.2 people per car average, that's about 60 million passengers per year--a favorable comparison to a train running in Japan's heaviest traffic corridor.
  • Also, I don't see what's wrong with waving a technological wand around. Is there some problem with thinking that technology--of both cars and trains--will change in years to come?

Jerome is correct in saying that one of the big problems is the subsidy of oil. One might work on that problem and then find out whether cars are still undesireable. In the meantime, nobody can prove which will be better in the long run, so making a political pro-train decision based on rough comparisons of today's technology is not going to give the best answer.

Incidently, here is a pretty long list of American cities where the use of mass transit has increased recently: http://www.apta.com/media/releases/050926gas_prices.cfm

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 09:59:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cars need not carry their fuel with them, as already discussed. Even if they do, battery technology improves constantly.

Great. And they're still more wasteful than a train. Which means more load on the grid, something that can't be tolerated on a green grid. And carrying a battery means that it still has to carry its fuel with it - batteries aren't weightless, you know. I'm willing to bet they still can't even come close to oil in terms of energy density. And then there's all the problems with disposing of batteries that've exceeded their lifespan...

And you still haven't dealt with the congestion and safety issues.

"Think about the way you drive" doesn't prove anything, because we shouldn't be talking about future perfect trains compared to today's cars.

Actually, we're talking about modern trains compared to near-future cars. And the way one drives is very relevant - cars are inherently human-controlled free-route vehicles. This introduces certain inherent inefficiencies that trains don't share because they travel a closed, fixed route.

Also, I don't see what's wrong with waving a technological wand around. Is there some problem with thinking that technology--of both cars and trains--will change in years to come?

Yes, there is. We're running out of oil. We need to develop replacements for oil-dependent methods. In most cases, this means drastic changes to the way we do things, because our current oil-centric methods are inherently wasteful in many ways. All of the alternatives have a significantly lower energy density. One can't just wave the magic technology wand and say "cars will continue to be viable". There's only so much technological developments can do before you start running into limits caused by the basic characteristics of the mode of transport.

This is not a political statement, nor is it a decision. The purpose of this diary series is not to "decide" anything, but to examine the options available to a post-oil society (which ours will be in about fifty years) based on current technology. Any subsequent technological developments, except possibly the development of economically viable fusion power, will only shift things further in favour of the alternatives presented here.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:10:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No particularly good statistic about long distance car travel leaps immediately to mind, but the seven lane Tappan Zee bridge in New York, on a route perhaps comparable to the sort that a high speed interstate railroad might take, carries 135,000 cars per day. If there are perhaps 1.2 people per car average, that's about 60 million passengers per year--a favorable comparison to a train running in Japan's heaviest traffic corridor.

The Shinkansen Tokyo-Osaka line has carried an average of 104 million people per year, is much safer, is more environmentally friendly, and is more sustainable. That's over the Tokyo-Osaka line's entire lifespan - when one considers that passengers/year will only have increased since the line opened, the figure becomes even more favourible. I'm willing to bet that your 1.2 people per car average is a little on the high side - that means one in five cars has two passengers, on average.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:22:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Having done some Googling on A123Systems, I'm suspicious. Most of the stuff I've found is carbon copies of press releases, and their site is woefully short on method details. They make a lot of claims, but back none of them up. And I feel compelled to note that if their batteries use copper or palladium, there are serious and unresolvable sustainability and volume problems.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:27:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Doing some more reading, those batteries you list still have a significantly lower energy density than petrolium. For starters, I think that measuring energy density in W/kg is misleading - the standard measure for that appears to be joules/kg. Even leaving that aside, they're still significantly inferior to gasoline. They provide 3000 joules/kilogram. Gasoline provides over 40 megajoules/kilogram.

So unless I'm missing some implication of their chosen metric, there's still a big gap here.

by Egarwaen on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 04:41:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In that particular context they are talking about power density, which is W/kg. Energy density is another issue, and I probably confused them above.

With gasoline in a modern car getting 50 MPG you can go over 500 miles without stopping. But so what? You still have to stop to relieve yourself once in a while--in my case about once an hour, say 100 miles. Increasing the range beyond 100 miles is decreasingly important. The EV-1 had a practical range in bad conditions of about 100 miles, and batteries continue to improve...

by asdf on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 08:23:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Increasing the range beyond 100 miles is decreasingly important.

Actually, it is pretty important. It directly affects the necessary frequency of charging stations.

by Egarwaen on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 10:20:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps we have a different definition of "car-type thing." Can one imagine an electric car with an inductive electric pickup that gets its energy from under the highway?

Yes. I also know enough physics to know that it would almost certainly be horrifically inefficient, and be substantially more expensive to construct and maintain than a good train system. Remember, highways and electrified train systems have about the same installation and upkeep costs now. What you're proposing increases the complexity of the road network by at least an order of magnitude. Busses are an entirely different beast, but for a long-range trip, you're still better off with a train.

Perhaps this is true, but there is an economic cost to that lack of freedom. How does this cost get factored in?

There is? Hm. I can't see it. Most of the time when you take a long-distance trip, you're taking all the days of the trip off work anyway, so you're not actually losing any productive hours in most cases. In fact, you might have a net gain of productive hours in some jobs, as you can conceivably do work for an "office job" during a train trip, something you can't manage on an airplane or in a car.

I think a better approach is the CO2 management system suggested here that leaves the tradeoff between trains and cars to the consumer.

It's not an either/or scenario. We do not have enough oil to keep the current car-based system going for much longer. There is no alternative fuel that I'm aware of that can keep the current car-based system going without requiring a drastic increase in electrical grid capacity. It's not a matter of which. It's a matter of whether a replacement system will be feasible (trains are) and when we make the switch (as soon as possible).

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:29:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting diary!

A question:  What are the chief energy resources that make the electricity that drives the high-speed Japanese and French trains?

A second question:  On what do you base your remark that nuclear-powered freighters, etc. would strain fissionable resources?

Thanks.

by Plan9 on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:52:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A question back: what about the energy sources of Swiss or Danish trains?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:05:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, what are the percentages for various types of electricity generation for Danish and Swiss trains?  That would also be interesting to know.
by Plan9 on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:16:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Swiss is almost exclusively water, it is a separate railway electricity system. (The power plants belong to the railways.) In Denmark's case, the electricity system is fed from the grid, and hence can be assumed to have the same percentages as grid power. It is a mix of gas, Swedish and Norwegian water, and Danish wind.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:25:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A question: What are the chief energy resources that make the electricity that drives the high-speed Japanese and French trains?

I really don't know. I'd assume that the TGV is partially or mostly nuclear, as France makes heavy use of nuclear power. The Shinkansen is a complete blank. The point isn't so much what modern trains use, though, as that they do draw from the grid, or from a grid. This means that they're fundamentally compatible with a "green grid", assuming that one can build a green grid with sufficient capacity. (I think it's possible, but that's a topic for a future diary.)

A second question: On what do you base your remark that nuclear-powered freighters, etc. would strain fissionable resources?

From what I've read, we've got 50-100 years of fissionables at current fuel prices and consumption rates. 300-500 years at current consumption rates and drastically increased but still viable fuel prices. This can be extended by using more efficient reactor types, but will be shortened by switching more of the grid over. Even to the better sorts of nuclear fission reactor design. Adding nuclear-powered ships to the list of consumers of fissionables would presumably cut that even further.

I don't have solid numbers and, again based on what I've read, no-one does. It's safe to say that fissionables are a viable fallback in general for a couple centuries, but we'd damn well better have an alternative method ready once they run out. And we still have to deal with the waste.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:08:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The long-term problem is *any* use of oil, not excessive use of oil.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:06:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess the Amish are going to be feeling pretty fly one of these days.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:12:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm the proud owner of two Irish draught type horses ... I'm gonna be a laughin' when the oil don't flow.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:15:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they don't go where you want to go

Not a real difference when compared to airplanes, which high-speed trains are compared to. On the other hand, just this is my argument against the 50-year trend of closing branchlines - being able to go to less places they want to go, some people will decide to switch to cars even to directions they could use a train for.

or when you want to go

Again not a real difference when compared to airplanes, but this problem becomes insignificant if trains run frequently enough, in fact can turn to the positive if choosing the alternative (be them trains or airplanes) often results in delays (traffic jams). (It is also a good policy to table train times regularly - say, stop at a certain station at :26 and :56 every hour: easy to remember.)

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

by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 08:03:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just as the UK is becoming a net oil importer (the North Sea fields lasted a mere 20 years!) they are planning on eliminating local lines. Sounds like brilliant policy.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 08:14:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One very interesting solution regarding both airplanes and trains is the use of ground-effect for creating highly efficient flying just a few meters (centimeters for trains) above ground.

Soviets developed the original concept with the Ekranoplan being one of the grandest designs. There are significant problems with aerodynamics and control but they are surmountable. Using WIGs (Wing in Ground-effect) increases efficiency by up to 50%.

Boeing is considering an ultra large WIG named Pelican.

For trains, ground-effect flight could prove to be a cheaper and more energy efficient design than MAGLEVs (that depend on superconducting materials)

Orthodoxy is not a religion.

by BalkanIdentity (balkanid _ at _ google.com) on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 10:29:53 PM EST
For trains, ground-effect flight could prove to be a cheaper and more energy efficient design than MAGLEVs (that depend on superconducting materials)

Not all maglev designs rely on superconducting materials. However, assorted ground-effect train models also have potential.

by Egarwaen on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 10:52:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Somewhere, I think at my parents home in England, I have a copy of the first edition of Jane's Surface Skimmers from I think 1967, the bible of ground-effect, hydrofoil and hovercraft vehicles for the next couple of decades.

There were some wierd and wonderful ideas for RAM effect vehicles floating around in the 1960s. There was even a prototype, but it all went onto the scrapheap at some point.

Eats cheroots and leaves.

by NeutralObserver on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:02:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This one is a big low hanging fruit.

[full disclaimer: I'm preaching for my chapel here]

I know that first hand as I work everyday with folks literally spread all over the planet, from California to Taiwan. Audio conf calls are driving me mad (and tend to throw me in pounding headaches) but I've totally fallen in love with high quality video-conferencing. I'm not talking video-phone but real video-conferencing done in well designed rooms with good lighting and a proper audio setup.

The level of comfort is unbelievable. Even a simple point-to-point H323 VC between 2 meeting rooms allows you capture the dynamics of a conversation in a way audio conferencing doesn't permit, where you spend half of your time wondering "who the hell is talking?" and the other half cursing the shitty sound quality and that asshole who thought it would be a good idea to call from a cell phone.

I've also used multiway HD VC a couple of times and that stuff absolutely rocks ! But I must admit that the setup is still in the realm of science-fiction for most: 3 or 4 high-definition screens, professional video and audio equipment and freaking big pipes (with well administered QoS, please). Also, expect loosing at least 15 minutes before the meeting to get all the settings and the network connections right :(

Show that to any hi-flying corporate drone (once it's all set up and working) and I can guarantee you that he won't accept any oversea trip without a really, really imperious reason anytime soon. That HD VC stuff will stroke his master-of-the-universe fur in just the right direction. Makes you feel like the top villain in a James Bond movie :)

So now, at least for intra-corporate meetings, I systematically refuses audio-confs if there are more than 3 persons on the other side. Period. Get yourself a VC room or don't invite so many (probably useless) people.
by Francois in Paris on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 10:53:51 PM EST

I know that first hand as I work everyday with folks literally spread all over the planet, from California to Taiwan. Audio conf calls are driving me mad (and tend to throw me in pounding headaches) but I've totally fallen in love with high quality video-conferencing. I'm not talking video-phone but real video-conferencing done in well designed rooms with good lighting and a proper audio setup.

The level of comfort is unbelievable. Even a simple point-to-point H323 VC between 2 meeting rooms allows you capture the dynamics of a conversation in a way audio conferencing doesn't permit, where you spend half of your time wondering "who the hell is talking?" and the other half cursing the shitty sound quality and that asshole who thought it would be a good idea to call from a cell phone.

Even Apple's basic iChat/iSight solution in a normal home computer room is wonderful. It doesn't eat up a lot of bandwidth, uses a regular monitor and a small camera, and just works. There's more than enough detail to see the other participants' facial expressions clearly, even if the field of view is too small to get a more complete picture of body language.

A research group at my university has regular "coast to coast" lectures that they host with a similar group at a university in BC using videoconferencing. I've attended one, and it actually worked pretty well. They were able to borrow great big screens from a HCI research group, though.

Your post made me remember some of my past experiences with audio conferencing... And you're right that it's absolutely horrible.

by Egarwaen on Sun Feb 5th, 2006 at 11:19:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary: I love the antidote to the "we're all doomed" crew.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:09:00 AM EST

Thanks! And that's exactly what Knoxville and I are aiming for. We want to demonstrate, looking at existing technologies and techniques, that a green society is viable and enjoyable. It actually kind of surprised me once I started digging into it, as it's really viable and enjoyable.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:41:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love the creative common stuff too...besides the diary...

Although I think the key point is on the transport of goods..

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 Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:19:35 AM EST
A 4 for mentioning the transport of goods, but I think the two are problems on an equal level.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 07:51:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
goods a little bit tougher...it will take more time to reconstruct the industry to local sources that to force people not to move..

But if the present levels of both transports want to be mantained.. you can hardly say it better....dead right...same level of problem.

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 Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 08:10:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Moving goods is a big problem - in fact, it's the biggest problem I've stumbled across so far. The 20% of shipping that's non-time-sensitive bulk goods is easy enough to handle. The rest? I really don't know. It depends, I think, on how time-sensitive it is. In some cases, the answer may be to simply have more storage at either end, and make larger shipments. In others, the only viable alternative is going to be local production. Local in a relative sense, not an absolute sense. Province/state-level here in North America, for example.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:43:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zeppelin and airplane principles can also be combined like this beautiful piece of technology.

It soars like a zeppelin and flies like a plane, and sits on the ground being recharged by wind-turbines like, eh,  a mix of zeppelin and plane with airpressure energy storage.

Ah, gotta work on those snappy presentations.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:27:50 AM EST

It's an interesting idea, but there's a few things that raise the physics red flags. Having wind turbines to gain power as you lose altitude is a good idea, and is sort of applying the same principles to flight that hybrids use to recover energy when breaking. Using wind turbines to gain energy as you gain altitude... Much more questionable. Since you have to expend energy to gain altitude in the first place, I don't think you actually gain anything here. It seems like you'd get very little energy and reduce your maximum load.

There are, however, a lot of interesting things that can be done with lighter-than-air vehicles. Using wind turbines to recharge batteries when the zeppelin is grounded, for example, is an excellent idea, especially if you could repurpose the "downward force" turbines for it.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:47:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice diary. I'm still curious about the points asdf raised above regarding cars. asdf and I both live in the American West, and there are a lot of reasons why a car works best here for transport. There are many places train service would not even be viable without significant government support. I like the idea of trains, but another reality of ignored is the cost of re-engineering our cities to make mass-transit systems genuinely user-friendly. How does the cost of that, including the environmental impact, factor into your calculations?

One other bit- I believe that one of the key pieces in the biodiesel puzzle is Industrial Hemp, a plant that produces more biomass in a growing season than most others, and can be grown almost anywhere.

Anyhow, thanx for posting-up here.

by US Blues on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 07:24:54 PM EST
asdf and I both live in the American West, and there are a lot of reasons why a car works best here for transport. There are many places train service would not even be viable without significant government support.

And do you really think car service to those places is viable without significant government support? It isn't.

For towns and cities, no matter where they're located, train service is perfectly viable. For rural areas, train service is (as I said in the diary) viable for transit to a "hub" area, then you have to use a car-type vehicle for transit from there to your ultimate destination. However, the volume is so low that alternative fuel methods become viable.

I like the idea of trains, but another reality of ignored is the cost of re-engineering our cities to make mass-transit systems genuinely user-friendly. How does the cost of that, including the environmental impact, factor into your calculations?

Not significant. The changes are required, so the cost is going to have to be borne whatever it is. The alternative is a collapse. However, it can be a gradual process, and I provided some details in an earlier diary in the series. (Which I don't think got cross-posted) Cities can work up from light rail and biodiesel-based bus solutions to real green mass transit initiatives.

One other bit- I believe that one of the key pieces in the biodiesel puzzle is Industrial Hemp, a plant that produces more biomass in a growing season than most others, and can be grown almost anywhere.

Right, but there's still some fundamental problems there. We can't just say "Oh, we'll all use biodiesel" because the volume of fuel consumed by the world's car fleets - especially when you include the fleets being built for India and China - is simply too high for any form of biodiesel to be viable. It's probably workable for car-type vehicles providing transportation from a central train station in a rural area, busses in some cities, and farm equipment and the like. More than that, and I'd be concerned about the pressure on fertile land.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 07:45:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
American highways are almost entirely funded by gasoline tax, so the roadway itself does not have a huge subsidy. Obviously there is a huge hidden subsidy associated with the global oil market, but the proposition here is that the car-like things will not run on oil. And of course there is a huge subsidy of railroads everywhere, too. It's very hard to make a fair comparison.

That's why it's important for governments to apply taxation that represents the best estimate of the social cost of a given behavior, as close to the source as possible.

In this case, I think the goal should be to enable a CO2 trading exchange, with equal per capita emission licenses on a global scale. This can be done by taxing the CO2 emission equivalency of oil, coal, gas, etc. at the refinery or wellhead or mine, and allowing the combination of the CO2 exchange and the downstream behavior of market forces to take into account hidden costs and benefits that are very hard to extract a priori from the big picture.

If, under such a scenario, GM can figure out how to make an SUV that is competitive with a train, then I don't see why they shouldn't.

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:10:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
American highways are almost entirely funded by gasoline tax, so the roadway itself does not have a huge subsidy.

Yes, and public transit systems are, after the initial outlay, almost entirely funded by user fees.

the proposition here is that the car-like things will not run on oil.

You've yet to suggest any viable alternatives.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:46:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Viable alternative #1: Electric cars, powered by batteries, with 500 mile range and five minute charge time. Already demonstrated, as mentioned above.

Viable alternative #2: Inductive connection to power distribution under pavement. Already in operation, as mentioned above.

Electricity in both cases provided by windmills, or water wheels, or hampsters on treadmills.

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:06:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Viable alternative #1: Electric cars, powered by batteries, with 500 mile range and five minute charge time. Already demonstrated, as mentioned above.

Not viable, and not demonstrated large-scale and long-term. You've got possible constraints in battery manufacturing rate, problems with disposing of spent batteries, and a drastically increased load on a grid less able to tolerate it.

Viable alternative #2: Inductive connection to power distribution under pavement. Already in operation, as mentioned above.

And as people tried to explain to you, far too expensive to actually work.

Electricity in both cases provided by windmills, or water wheels, or hampsters on treadmills.

Great. Remember that we're dealing with a green grid here, with much less spare capacity. We can't just burn more oil to get more power, we have to do more with an inherently fixed supply of electricity.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:12:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Incidently, I believe that most public transportation systems require an explicit government subsidy. Certainly that's the case in the U.S., and I believe it is also in Europe. One may argue that cars are also subsidized, but that simply supports my argument that disentangling it all is very hard.
by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:10:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Incidently, I believe that most public transportation systems require an explicit government subsidy. Certainly that's the case in the U.S., and I believe it is also in Europe. One may argue that cars are also subsidized, but that simply supports my argument that disentangling it all is very hard.

It does no such thing! Cars are also "explicitly" subsidized, and massively so. From construction to roadwork to filling up at the pump, never mind the massive unaccounted-for externalities. In fact, it proves that public transportation is no less viable than a car-centric system. And you have yet to explain why an explicit subsidy for a public good is in any way undesirable.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:15:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Large modern ships are basically turning into floating power plants. They use diesel-electric propulsion, meaning that the electricity comes from a diesel generator, but the propellers use electric motors. This is more reliable, effective and has a nice benefit of allowing the construction of rotating propellers for maneuverability (see for example http://www.wartsila.com/en,shippower,0,product,40098423268668480,1603937684306608,,.htm)

As such, replacing the diesel generators with something else is not that big a deal, natural or bio gas comes to mind. As for solar power, my understanding is that you get something between 15 to 60 watts per square meter. Cargo ship power requirement on the other hand is in megawatts, tens of if we are talking really big oens, but let's say 4MW for our hypothetical solar ship. Given average input of 40W/m2, you would need 100 000m2 of solar panels. For example the biggest container ship in the world has a deck of roughly 300 by 45 meters, that is 13500 m2, and it does need lot more than 4MW. So no, I don't think this is feasible.

Wind should be more feasible, probably as an addition to other power generators like diesel or natural gas. I think Samsung or some other Japanese dock has toyed with the idea of using steel sails. Also, I guess it would be conceivable for ships to fill up on hydrogen generated by off-shore wind power farms.

by teme on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 07:04:28 AM EST
As such, replacing the diesel generators with something else is not that big a deal, natural or bio gas comes to mind.

Natural gas is a limited resource, and so is not long-term sustainable. Biological sources have volume issues - dedicating land to fuel production cuts into food production significantly.

As for solar power, my understanding is that you get something between 15 to 60 watts per square meter. Cargo ship power requirement on the other hand is in megawatts, tens of if we are talking really big oens, but let's say 4MW for our hypothetical solar ship. Given average input of 40W/m2, you would need 100 000m2 of solar panels. For example the biggest container ship in the world has a deck of roughly 300 by 45 meters, that is 13500 m2, and it does need lot more than 4MW. So no, I don't think this is feasible.

I think it's closer to 130-160 W/m^2. (Wikipedia section) That gives almost 2 megawatts for that ship you mention. Not enough on its own, but combined with the kite-sail and other methods? Maybe, maybe not. And doesn't that 4MW figure drop if you reduce the ship's speed?

Wind should be more feasible, probably as an addition to other power generators like diesel or natural gas. I think Samsung or some other Japanese dock has toyed with the idea of using steel sails.

I believe I linked to an article about this in the diary.

by Egarwaen on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 04:49:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice diary.  Most of the comments I would have made have been ably made by others.

Re:  government subsidy of private auto, the definitive text on this for US is afaik Hart and Spivak, The Elephant in the Bedroom, in which the economics of the highway system and the private auto are subjected to a rather merciless freemarket analysis.

The idea that we have the resources to re-engineer the entire road network for subsurface induction grid, when we're rapidly running out of options for heating and cooking, does give me a chuckle :-)  imho this is a time for humility and practicality, rather than grandiosity, in strategic planning.

Surprisingly the Amish are very fond of petrochemical pesticides, so a spike in petro prices will not leave them untouched;  they also use a lot of kerosene for lanterns, and hire other people to drive motor vehicles for travel and business (some drivers make a bit of income on the side "hauling Amish" in central PA)  But they should be better placed than more conventional citizens to adapt to an expensive-energy future, relying more than most on human power, natural daylight, wood heat and water power.

Also I endorse with enthusiasm the comments on telepresence technology, which is changing the face of my own professional area (astronomy)significantly.  My institution is one of the leaders in "remote observing" technology and procedures, which I like to think will reduce significantly the number of plane trips taken by astronomers over the next decade.

One thing I have to wonder is why there is no mention at all of bicycles and other human powered vehicles.  
I see the bike as an ideal utility vehicle, that  "car like thing" that offers individualistic complete freedom of destination and timing, and gets you to the transport hub where more concentrated transport modes take you over longer distances.  And it doesn't need any high tech sci-fi batteries, or nuclear power plants, or sub-surface induction grids :-) or much of anything except some lubrication now and then and enough manufacturing base to produce reliable bearing balls, steel bowden cables, accurate machine parts, and some kind of rubber-like substance for tyres and inner tubes.   In fact it can use far smaller and cheaper roadways than heavy motor vehicles.

True it is not a "long range transport option" except for pleasure, being fairly slow (12 mph for the average non-competitive cyclist).  But if the long haul options are made very bike-friendly (not like airlines which require us to break bikes down for transport and pay a hefty additional fee as well, more like the old British trains where you could just throw the bike in the luggage van), bikes can be ideal for getting people over that awkward medium distance from home to nearest multimodal transport hub, and from transport hub to specific destinations at the other end.  BART (SF Bay Area) and Caltrain (greater Bay Area) do very well moving commuter cyclists from stations within a mile or two of home to stations within a mile or two of work, sometimes with 30-40 miles in between, so that the actual bike commute is a very modest 4 or 5 miles per day.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 03:24:02 AM EST
Surprisingly the Amish are very fond of petrochemical pesticides, so a spike in petro prices will not leave them untouched; they also use a lot of kerosene for lanterns, and hire other people to drive motor vehicles for travel and business (some drivers make a bit of income on the side "hauling Amish" in central PA) But they should be better placed than more conventional citizens to adapt to an expensive-energy future, relying more than most on human power, natural daylight, wood heat and water power.

Wood heat isn't actually very sustainable. Again, you run into the limited land problem. More efficient electrical solutions coupled with a green power grid seem to be the best bet. While no one green power solution could supply enough energy for usage that's even twice as efficient, a combination of green power solutions has a lot of potential. Petrochemical pesticides link into the whole green agriculture thing - not only are the pesticides unsustainable, the form of agriculture that uses them sucks in so many ways. I covered this in another New Environmentalism diary on Booman Tribune that I forgot to cross-post.

One thing I have to wonder is why there is no mention at all of bicycles and other human powered vehicles.

Because this diary's focusing on the long-range transportation options and difficulties. Bikes, as you say, are absolutely wonderful for short-range transportation, especially when combined with a good public transportation network. There're enough "integration issues" and "integration opportunities" in the whole transportation network that I think one could get an entire diary on them.

by Egarwaen on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 12:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I covered this in another New Environmentalism diary on Booman Tribune that I forgot to cross-post.

Cross-post it immediately. What were you thinking!

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 01:01:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I believe my co-conspirators and I are going to be crossposting all future diaries. We generally post diaries on Saturdays, so if you want, we can start posting the ones we forgot to cross-post here as mid-week features, if you want?

by Egarwaen on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 06:23:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
wood heat is not sustainable for everybody, but a rural family with a wood lot, a heavily insulated home (straw bale for example) and an efficient wood stove with integrated water heating tank, can provide for their own heating needs almost indefinitely (modulo the small input of industrial support in the form of saw blades and hatchets heads made of steel).

I don't think we have enough land left for every person to have enough sustainable woodlot to support their heating needs;  and a self-sufficient family would not be taking 15 minute hot showers every single morning, or washing dishes by turning on the hot water full blast and just letting it run, and run, and run while scrubbing dishes under the stream (as I have seen many friends do in American homes).  a serious adjustment of  profligate habits is necessary, and even so (adjusted habits, insulated homes, etc) I don't think there is enough woodlot available to solve all domestic heating problems.

electricity is such a pathetically inefficient source of heat though :-(  losses all along the chain from generation to storage to delivery.

do please crosspost your other article asap.  these are topics dear to my heart.  [btw you are preaching to the choir in my case on the sust ag topic, just hunt through my previous posts to find diaries, comments, and raving rants on this topic.]

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:46:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was some discussion of the losses in electricity generation in this diary of Jerome's but they didn't amount to much.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 02:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Oh, sorry. I missed the natural daylight part of the sentence. Electricity isn't bad, IIRC - electric heating can be pretty efficient in terms of electricity coming into the home. But the green direction there, I think, is diverse sources of heating. Electric, passive solar, better insulation, etc. Combine a bunch of sources and use each when appropriate, instead of trying to rely entirely on one.

by Egarwaen on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 06:26:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
YES (to a mix of sources rather than an impractical obsession with single answers)... and this ties into an ongoing and intensifying obesssion of my own, with the rollback of Taylorism and monoculture and the enormous value of fine-grained diversity.  More on this one of these days...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 06:43:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
YES (to a mix of sources rather than an impractical obsession with single answers)...

That's actually one of the things that started this ball rolling. I kept seeing "doom and gloom" analyses of the options available to a post-oil society... That always assumed that we had to pick one and only one replacement for oil. And assorted other shaky math, like comparing the energy required to drive and cycle a given distance without accounting for the fact that the driver of the car still needs to eat.

and this ties into an ongoing and intensifying obesssion of my own, with the rollback of Taylorism and monoculture and the enormous value of fine-grained diversity. More on this one of these days...

That's one of the other things that got me on this kick. The post-oil society I wound up with in my head was a lot more diverse as a side-effect of the pressures towards localization and the ease of trading "culture" over the Internet. Since the modern monoculture drives me nuts... Taylorism also drives me nuts, though I didn't know what it was caused before now. I swear, I've seen more problems in the workplace caused by the "one size fits all" and "interchangable gears" model of labour than anything else.

I'd love to see a detailed diary on this. Maybe even as part of the New Environmentalism series, depending on the slant it winds up taking.

by Egarwaen on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:25:50 PM EST
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