Tech Talk - Considerations of Chinese Demand Growth

Three years ago I took my third trip to China, flying this time to Qinghai Province and then taking the train back down from Xining City through Xian to Shanghai. One of the more striking parts of the trip was the first day of the train travel, where the tracks cut down from the Tibetan Plateau to the plains of the East. The valleys are narrow and it is often difficult for the train tracks and roads to find an easy route, so this led to many tunnels, and in places, one or the other running on piers up the valley.

Figure 1. Railway causeway set across a valley carrying a second line (photo taken from the first, about to go into a tunnel) the river crosses under the line and runs along the left hillside.

The countryside was redolent with new highway construction and the tunnels necessary to bring additional communications into a hinterland that had few good roads (or any other method) reaching into remote communities in the past.

Figure 2. Further down the valley it is much narrower and the road and rails run in tunnels on each side of the river. The current narrow road is being widened but whenever there was a hold-up, the line of trucks waiting grew by miles (very few cars).

A historian once commented on the major impact to the American economy and social infrastructure created with the development of the road network and the addition of the Interstate system. When I first went to China in 1987, poverty was rampant; the main method of transportation was by bicycle though I travelled by train and minibus. By my second visit in 2002, the economy was undergoing rapid changes. Their interstate network was being developed, although I remember noting that the train passed many miles of freeway that had very little traffic. They are now seeing this gain, but it is a work still in progress, and in turn, it is driving growth in Chinese oil demand.

Figure 3. Changes in Chinese oil consumption and imports over the past decades (Energy Export Databrowser )

It is important to recognize that there are many parts of the country where these interconnections and improvements to the infrastructure are still going on. As those changes occur, the increasing use of power-driven vehicles continues to rise, and with it the need for increased supply. The risk of exacerbating popular unrest if that change were to stop is just one reason why it is bound to continue, and with it China’s continued need for additional supplies of all forms of fossil fuels, as well as the rest of those supplies from the Earth that we all need. That includes water, a vital resource, but one whose limit restricts some of the options that the Chinese government can adopt.

In the July Monthly Oil Market Report, OPEC note that automobile sales in China were up for May by 22% y-o-y, though this is not expected to change the rate of growth in overall oil demand for the country. In total they expect, as they noted in August, China’s economic growth forecast remains at 8.1%, with an 8% projection for 2013.

Figure 4. Changes in apparent oil demand for China (OPEC August MOMR)

Within that overall demand, the relative proportions of the mix change over time, though it must be remembered that China is still building a Strategic Petroleum Reserve of its own, and up to 1 mbd can be fed into this when judged appropriate.

Figure 5. Change in apparent oil consumption in China (OPEC August MOMR)

The problems of traffic congestion, exemplified by the 11-day Beijing traffic blockage in 2010 is leading to some restrictions within the cities. Four cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guiyang and Guangzhou, are now said to restrict car sales (OPEC August MOMR) and electrical vehicles and taxis are being introduced, with a target of half-a-million vehicles by 2015. This is now seen as an area of growth, especially in battery development, and a target of 5 million cars has been set for 2020. And while this might seem to be a market opportunity for the Volt, domestic tax protection has made it a difficult sale to the present.

A recent report by the Economist indicates that sales of these vehicles have not taken off as hoped, with only 8,000 being sold, largely to government agencies. As in the United States, there is an element of “chicken and egg” to the story, in that without a network of charging stations there is a certain amount of caution in committing to a higher than normal investment without the assurance of benefit in the very near future. The suggestion is that China may backtrack to a greater emphasis on hybrids before returning to push for the purely electrical car.

This is not to say that there is no recognition of the need for alternate sources of energy. But in China, the general populace has a much better understanding of the limited nature of energy supplies, a lesson the rest of us will likely have to learn another way. Thus one finds a much wider use of solar power in China, especially for more mundane uses such as making tea. It was instructive to see, as we drove down a street in one of the tourist resort towns near a lake, that each house along the street had a large kettle sitting outside on a solar collecting dish.

Figure 6. Solar heating of a kettle (30 min to boiling)

Many had solar water heaters on the roof also, and while somewhat more unsightly than many systems (for example, mine has black plastic solar pipes that blend into the roof) they take up less space and serve their purpose.

Figure 7. Solar water heater (cost around $1,000 installed)

I came away convinced that China is nowhere near the point where it can meet the growing demands that a developing society will have for energy, and that their government will be driven to find creative ways of meeting that increasing demand.

Thanks, HO, a perfect article for a Sunday morning.

As it happens, I'm helping a friend adapt to a solar water heater virtually identical to the one in your last picture. These are unpressurized evacuated-tube, thermosyphon units. The tubes are held by a rack and inserted into grommet seals in the bottom of the tank above. Water is fed via a hose or pipe into a float valve which keeps the storage tank full. The tank is vented to the atmosphere through a small tube which can be seen in the picture, projecting out of the top/right of the tank. It occasionally squirts water onto the roof as the water gets hot and expands, a bit like a coffee percolator. There is no active temperature control other than introducing more cold water. A second hose or pipe returns the heated water back to the point of use via gravity flow.

The issue that my friends are having is that there is no useful way of directly plumbing this system into the hot water side of a home's existing plumbing, as its pressure is provided by gravity and is much lower than the cold side (unbalanced), a problem when trying to take a shower, etc. I solved this, in part, by installing a small pump in the return line from the hot water tank on the roof, controlled by a pressure switch. Since the cold water pressure is controlled by another pressure switch on the well pump, we have a situation of independently fluctuating pressures on the hot and cold sides. Working on that, but my friends don't have much money to put into the system (they didn't consult me before purchasing this water heater).

The addition of a solar hot water tank with a heat exchanger is the best solution, and would address my other concern: freezing. While the salesman insisted that the system won't freeze, I disagree. The storage tank has a 500 watt heating element for backup that is also likely intended to prevent freezing. If this system was used to heat water in a storage tank via a heat exchanger, it could be operated as a semi-closed loop with glycol, controlled by a differential controller. $$$.

While these folks would have been better off with a different setup, they only paid $450 US for the unit, and it does make lots of really hot water on a good day. These can be had wholesale for about half that price. I'm thinking of getting one just to play with. Some sources:

Pressurized units are also available.

As I can't vouch for quality, buyer beware. Look for the stainless models. Having played with one of these a bit, I can see how they would be a good solution for a society on the way up. Seems like they're turning out millions of these things.

As long as energy is cheap they are not very economic but they are on the limit. Solar heaters combined with firewood may be a good choice in cold climate but they cost more to install than electric heaters.

"As long as energy is cheap they are not very economic but they are on the limit."

As evidenced in HO's article, it seems they are pretty economic in China. Depending on energy options and location, payback time can be just a few years. After that, it's all gravy. Blanket statements such as yours are indicative of the fixed thinking we need to eliminate. The folks I discussed, above were quoted ~$800 to have a new, higher efficiency electric water heater installed. If they can get this unit working to their satisfaction, the cost may be a wash. Their electric hot water was a large portion of their electric bill, and their rates are likely to increase, near term.

When the full cycle costs to society are calculated, solar hot water becomes a no-brainer in many areas.

As evidenced in HO's article, it seems they are pretty economic in China.

Bought in China and sent half way around the world is a little bit different. If the interest is neglected which is very low now anyway they will eventually pay off but it takes a long time.

It is exactly what could be expected then they are on the limit. In some places it make economic sense but not everywhere. I have tried to sell them and so far it have not make economic sense.

Interesting, Ghung. I built something similar for a cost of about $20 plus odds & ends from the boneyard. The tank is a stainless steel 20 gallon beer keg I bought at a yard sale, painted black, mounted atop the roof & plumbed with garden hoses & 3/4" black plastic pipe, into my bathtub shower inside the house. It works by gravity but is filled by the pressurized system. I added a 3rd knob to the shower, controlling the solar shower output. It is also re-filled via this line. The 50 feet of black plastic pipe is draped diagonally across the roof to create the thermosiphon, starting from the bottom of the tank, dropping straight down then over to the lower corner of the roof eave, then from there at an upward angle to the far end, reversing & back to the tank at the top. The tank has a tee for this, one opening being used for overflow & pressure equalization. This has a line attached that drops down next to the bathroom window so I can see when the tank is full & also allows for thermal expansion. Usually the water is too hot so can be mixed with pressurized cold water at the shower faucet. The primary "limitation" is that thermosiphoning only works when the tank is full, so most hot water use is in the evening, as the tank is not insulated. I usually refill the tank in the early morning until it overflows onto the shed roof adjoining the bathroom--the local covey of quail has discovered this water source so reminds me each day by amassing atop the shed roof & demanding water be released. The entire system of course is drained in the fall, at which point my hot water is provided by the copper coil system in the woodstove chimney, feeding a tank via thermosiphon indoors, for winter. A year-round hot water supply can be provided for less than $100 and zero ongoing energy costs. The trade-off is that you adjust your demand for hot water to the natural cycle of day & night, warm & cold.

I know you and Fred always emphasise demand reduction before fuel substitution, but have your friends taken steps to lower their DHW costs, e.g., added pipe wrap and an insulating blanket to their tank; installed low flow shower heads and faucet aerators; wash their clothes in warm or cold water; make more efficient use of their dishwasher; and so on? I've noticed how some households consume enormous amounts of hot water (e.g., leave the tap running as they rinse dishes) and can't help but wonder if a few simple behavioural changes and maybe $50.00 of miscellaneous supplies might go a long way to solving the problem.


Yeah, Paul, I've gotten on them about some of this stuff. They were already quite frugal, and I expect we'll get them on track soon. I reminded them the other day that winter is just around the corner....

I'm the proud owner of a Copper Cricket solar hot water system
No electrical parts, no moving parts. Works great. The most critical thing is having absolutely perfect soldering/brazing since the system must maintain a vacuum to work properly.

It's a shame that these are no longer made. Occasionally one can find a used system on the market. I keep hoping that some enterprising soul will start making them again.

That's pretty slick! Two phase flow with two return lines. Rapid circulation in the panel drives enough differential pressure to overcome the stack effect and push water down to the ground floor. From the web site it doesn't look too complicated, although it would be a lot of soldering. They mention expired patents; I imagine those would have all the details.

Personally I'd be willing to trade off some operating attention for less fabrication. A straight water system with a small pump and drain valve might be simpler for me. But that is a slick trick.

Bob Block (former patent holder) says he's going to put the design/plans into the public domain. Maybe we'll build one; test it out. Meantime, my simple homebuilt drainback system is working quite well.

Edit: I see much of it is posted under "Manuals/Docs". Looks like fun!

The patents are on the left under Patents. Once I get moved, 2700 mile drive beginning Tuesday, I'm going to build one of these! I love the idea of no pump to supply power to.

I liked the co-innovator's discussion on his recent blog with some newcomer innovators

The drawings looked like our early prototypes with some minor additions, but after reading further, those little additions were huge. I was very impressed by the improvements they made. Their product is easier to install and will re-create its own vacuum. It doesn’t require a vacuum pump to create an initial vacuum; it uses non-toxic propylene glycol as the antifreeze, and can be installed with plastic tubing. It has novel over-heat protection that dumps the fluid out of the collection plate before reaching 180F. They use standard flat-plate collectors, and don’t worry about nucleation.

Nice discussion

Can you describe the cold water side pressure system in more detail? Also, are there any mixing valves at point of use?

The system transfers heat to the domestic water via a heat exchanger that the hot water tank sits on. So the solar collector system is charged with a mix of alcohol and water, which does not mix with the house water.

From there, it looks like the house hot water system is totally conventional. No mixing valves aside from your standard faucets.

If you look at the web site under Manuals/Docs, and go to Shop Drawings, there is a drawing labeled CopperDragonSchematic.gif that shows the loop more clearly. It appears that the fluid rising through the collector boils off bubbles of alcohol vapor. At the top it looks like some fancy piping to separate the liquid and vapor. The vapor is then collapsed by the returning cold fluid from the ground floor, and returns to the bottom of the collector via the pipe down the shady side.

It looks like the bubbles drive a rapid circulation in the collector, which produces enough differential pressure to drive the circulation down through the ground floor heat exchanger. So there are actually two circulation loops that mix at the back of the collector. Nice example of applied physics.

No, I understand the Cricket...very cool (freeze protection plus passive 'geyser' pumping). I was wondering about Ghung's attempt to integrate an unpressurized thermosiphon unit into a pressurized domestic plumbing system fed from a well with an unsteady cold-water pressure.

My friends had removed their defunct electric water heater in the cellar and connected in the solar unit, running the cold water connection up to the SWH on the roof and the hot water return to the original HW connection in the cellar using insulated PEX. Of course, the HW pressure to the taps was low (none on the second floor, duh). I put in a check valve, booster pump controlled by a pressure switch (set at 40 psi) and a small expansion tank before reconnecting to the original hot water connection. The cold water pressure is controlled by the well pump (set @ 35-45 psi). The hot and cold water loops now stay in approximately the same pressure range. The little HW pump is pulling water from the vented storage tank on the roof.

I tried a mixing valve but it fluctuated, likely due to a pressure imbalance/fluctuation across its hot/cold inlets. As is, the temperature at the shower head only varies a few degrees, so they just find a happy medium and live with it, as I expect the Chinese do. Beats taking a cold shower.

The plan, when they can afford it, is to put a pressurized storage tank in the basement with a heat exchanger and run the solar system as a closed loop with glycol, much as most systems in the US operate. It's an old miller's house, and the cellar door is tiny, making tank size a problem. I suggested they use the old mill race as a micro-hydro site (wish I had it on my place).

[apologies to HO for getting so far OT]

" to put a pressurized storage tank in the basement with a heat exchanger and run the solar system as a closed loop with glycol..."

Why pressurized? Going above the boiling point seems a little silly unless you're at like 14,000 feet or something. You'd be better suited to using a larger volume of water than trying to obtain a higher temperature. The delta-T losses will catch up to you as well as potential SHTF if you spring a leak and start shooting boiling water everywhere.

Build a non-pressurized tank in place. The potential losses will increase as it gets bigger, but if the array is sufficient to heat the volume then bigger will be better (storage volume grows cubed while surface area is squared). If the cellar is dirt-floor you should be able to dig out a pit to build an insulated "pool." Above ground would take a bit more engineering. You would have two options...have it be circulated or "dead water."

If the water pressure is higher than the glycol pressure it reduces the risk of glycol entering the water supply.


According to the BP data you showed above, oil imports to China increased by 9.5 %. This is a crazy pace which cannot simply be kept up.

If this pace was to be held steady with few fluctuations for every year from 2011 all the way to 2020, Chinese imports of oil alone would be at the 13th mb/d mark(and this in a world where the net exports are significantly depressed).

The best forecasts I've seen predicts about 93-94 mb/d in annual production in 2020(this is the most optimistic. Actual production may go a bit higher in the mid-decade but it would quickly come down due to depletion etc.).

In other words, there is no way in hell that would be realized. Then the question becomes, can China reduce it's oil imports substantially? Solar is one answer, nuclear is something they are going strong with, Coal to about 2015 then it levels off.

Some things which are unnecessarily using oil today in China can be converted to other energy sources, they have strict fuel standards etc.

Nonetheless, all that strikes me as unrealistic as being enough to come even close to stemming the ongoing reality check for oil demand in China(of course, as well in the rest of the world).

China is more interesting, in part because they've had a 30-year long experience of an "endless" upwards climb, unlike the Europeans and now the Americans(not to mention the Japanese). The psychology and the expecations of that society is simply very different, there has been no significant shock to the system for decades, no major downturn. This will be their big test.

Oil demand will have to slow because it has no other way to go but down in a more constrained world.
This is especially the case since the Chinese have been able to outplay, outbid and outbuy oil assets around the world in front of the Indians who have been much less organised(not to mention having had to pony up quite substantial amounts in oil subsidies in relative terms to their economy). And that will not continue as effortlessly anymore.

Post-blackout India will not allow itself to be as lopsided in the energy race around the world anymore.

And then there's Europe, the biggest trading partner for export-dependent India, which can only go down and stay down. Which will hurt their economy, and on top of it all they have had a huge housing bubble(America's was 6 % of GDP at the top, China's was around twice at the top, and averaged 9 % during the lows).

The oil in the South China Sea is the first natural conflict, especially with Japan. The Japanese have already detained and deported dozens of Chinese nationals around the Islands to the south of both countries(if you look at the map, you realize neither Japan nor China have natural authority over those islands, but greed has never stopped anyone).

And that's because most of the major oil finds have been in the southern parts of the South China Sea.

Then again, what choice do Japan have? They can only rely on the U.S. and will America be willing to give a credible military prescence in a part of the world which is close to what the Gulf of Mexico is for America(the Americans already chased the European superpowers away from it's backyard in the 19th Century who were operating in the Gulf). So what makes it certain that China won't act like America did in the 19th Century in an area which it, too, sees as it's backyard.

Nonetheless, oil imports will go down. Substantially. Oil demand has average 1.8 % pre-2007 worldwide. Now, the recent IMF report which tried to converge the peak oil view with the economic view has predicted a worldwide demand growth of 0.9 % per year.

I think even that is too much, even if it's only half of the historical average. I think 0.6 % will be the average for the entire decade(the IEA is already predicting 2013 as having lower oil demand than in 2012, between 0.7 and 0.8 %), since I am counting for at least one recession to come along, relatively shortly, and it could be another one coming.

Then we have what the IEA authors called the 'non-linear events', basically an inflection point where things start to spiral out of the predicted path and starts to have much larger knock-on effects. And that inflection point is impossible to calculate or predict.

It will be different for individual countries and for the world.
The pain threshold for a country like China will be lower because of their past experience of double digit growth - that's what their entire nation is wired for.

In a democracy, you can always kick out the incumbent(even if it doesn't always make that much of a difference), but at least for some people it makes them think they made a difference, it lets them unwind.

In a dictatorship, the leaders are untouchable by the public in all circumstances and only leave due to internal power players. And in such a situation, if the situation permanently goes sour, the only choice you have left is revolution and revolt.

Naturally, I don't expect the Chinese authorities to let the situation go that far. Having an oppressive police state does have it's perks for leaders wishing to cling to power at all costs.

Sv – “...oil imports to China increased by 9.5 %. This is a crazy pace which cannot simply be kept up...In other words, there is no way in hell that would be realized.”

I can see it happening, at least in theory. China can import every bbl of export oil on the planet by either outbidding other buyers or because they already own it. Whether their economy can afford such an effort is another question...but the same question applies to all other economies. Not predicting this would happen. But it’s happening today to hundreds of economies and billions of people: all those unable to compete with those economies that can afford current high prices. All I’m doing is speculating this same dynamic will continue into the future. Of course, the list of have’s and have not’s would change over time.

“...strikes me as unrealistic as being enough to come even close to stemming the ongoing reality check for oil demand in China(of course, as well in the rest of the world).” I fully agree. It’s not at all realistic that all current oil importers will have enough available (at a price the can afford) in the future to satisfy their needs. But like the old joke: it doesn’t matter how fast the hungry bear can run as long as I can run faster than you. If global exports fall in half in the next X years any country can still import every bbl they need to run their economy. As long as they are the high bidder. Again, as it has been for decades.

I suppose China could theoretically import every bbl of oil available on Earth /if/ its economy could prosper on internal dynamics alone...meaning that it can prosper without needing to sell any exports to anybody else.

For...if the ROW had zero oil, the ROW would be hard-pressed to have the means to import any Chinese goods or services.

Back to your concept of isn't altruism, it is good business.

H - It does paint a sad future world. But is it that much different than the current situation? There are billions living difficult lives today because they lack the ability to access their energy requirements. And as a result their economies lack the ability to prosper. I’m sure you’ve seen the stories about the thousands who die daily because they lack aspirin and rehydration drinks. Sad fact: more die from diarrhea induce dehydration than AIDS. The difference in the future is that some folks who have never lacked basic necessities will face that prospect…or not if they can usurp someone else’s resources.

You ever see that old movie “Lifeboat”. Simple scenario: realistically you have only enough provisions to survive till rescue to support 5…maybe if you’re very lucky. But you have 10 onboard. So do you force 5 over the side? Do you keep all 10 onboard and likely kill everyone? Do you send a healthy older person overboard or an injured child that has a poor chance of survival even if they stay onboard? Do you keep the cowardly seamen onboard who caused the accident because he’s the best navigator or a pregnant woman? Like you said: what’s the good business decision…remembering that the business is survival in this example.

Or a shorter example: who do you put on point: your best grunt because he has a better chance of surviving in case you get zapped or the goof off whose loss wouldn’t degrade the platoon’s effectiveness? What’s the best “business” decision? Come on… make a decision… everyone is looking at you for leadership. Decide! LOL. Always easier to come up with a theoretical answer than facing the real life situation, eh?

If some form of MADOR develops I don't foresee anything moral or fair in the process, That would't be good business, would it?

I think MADOR has been in force for many years...and I never had any illusions about it or most anything else being fair.

H – Yes…the more we’ve been chatting about it the more I see that. Like the old joke about the difference between a recession and a depression depends on whether you or your neighbor lost a job. Even more so with MADOR: if you’ve been on the receiving end then you might not easiiy see it…it would just be BAU. That would have been the view in Indonesia when they were a net exporter supporting their country with oil revenue: “What MADOR? We’re just carrying on as normal.” But now they are a net importer. As their oil revenue continues to decrease they’ll be less able to purchase their energy needs.

What happens when the day comes that our long standing partner, Great Britain, can’t access the energy imports needed to keep their population stable? Is the US going to allow England to purchase energy the US could easily outbid for? Pretty safe bet China won’t. So back the basic question: as PO becomes a bigger issue who will be the “Mutual” participants in this opera? I suspect many “friends” of the USA will be disappointed.


I wonder if anyone has bone even a simple analysis of economic activity metrics for countries which have transitioned from net exporter to net importer status.

Indonesia, for example.

Did they experience a drop in economic indicators correlated with their change from exporter to importer of oil?

Certainly there are a few countries which are resource-poor (such as Japan) that have, at least for a while, experienced remarkable economic growth/level of activity. One could talk about Taiwan and South Korea and Singapore as well.

But...maybe these are/were temporary exceptions to the rule.

Then there is Russia...the anti-Asian-Tiger...we aren't buying Russian steel, cars, aircraft, appliances, or electronics...but Russia is making money selling oil and NG..they are resource-rich and mercantilism-challenged...while the 'Asian Tigers' are/were the opposite.

Then there is Chile:

It is definitely an oil importer yet I thought it was a pretty stable, fairly well-off country. Maybe the export of Copper and other minerals bring in income?

New Zealand's oil import graph looks much the same as Chile's (I didn't check the scale!), yet I would say the same about it: I perceive it to be a fairly well-off country.

I looked for a per-capita graph option (for internal consumption) in the Energy Export Databrowser but did not find one.

Comparing per-capita oil and other types of energy consumption between countries would be well as overlaying a plot of peop;e per square km/mile of land.

I am sure it is a few clicks away, but I grow weary tonight...

Well I live in NZ and that chart is both extremely alarming and totally undiscussed.

NZ can, on many levels, be considered to be the Canada of the South Pacific. It is the smaller, cooler, poorer, more mountainous, more egalitarian, less racist, less exciting, more rural, less violent, and much less brash of the two anglophone ex Britsh colonies that make up Australasia. And like Canada we now have a totally BAU committed government. Just no Tar Sands. (and something of a little brother complex with Australia)

It is extremely frustrating because we already have over 80% renewable electricity generation, mainly legacy hydro, but lots of newer wind and geo. totally unsubsidised. And with effort and less insane governance we could easily get that to 100%. And with greater effort we could ween ourselves off a large proportion of the 97% imported FF. Transport is the main area that this could happen. The current gov is however in the pocket of a powerful road lobby as well as being ideologically committed to privatising the state owned generating assets and the badly run down but still extensive rail network. Underthe guise of 'fiscal responsibility'.

Without boring you all further what is such a shame about this is because compared to the problems I read here (Rockman on Houston etc) we are so lucky. Only 4.5 million of us, temperate climate, more than able to feed ourselves as well as power up an electric future, plenty of water (believe me) and even an ok economy. Well except for that crazy FF import bill that we are just ignoring and that is contributing hugely to our balance of payments problems. Like y'all we're in debt. And the gov is pushing through a huge highway building programme, insanely.

As well as promoting oil drilling fantasies in Über deep wild ocean water. They have signed up Petrobras on a crazy low royalty deal to go fishing for the stuff. When we should be getting off it.

This can't go on and won't but we are wasting time and resources when we could be a real success story. I am not persuaded by the full doomer view of the future, but change is so a-coming, and there are certainly worse places to be: NZ will be a way easier ship to turn round than the autodependant cities of the sunbelt....(we don't all have guns either).

But I don't see too many tankers coming our way when things get real interesting...... No one needs milk that much.

Patrick – Yep, quite a shame. Your population isn’t much different than Houston. But we’re almost perfect opposite when it comes to natural resources. I’m not that familiar with NZ geography (but I have walked among the geysers at Rotorua) but I’m shocked that you’re not dominated by hydro. I gather the worst lacking was electric vehicles. Perhaps at least for mass public transport?

All the more illogical given your lack of FF. I can’t imagine developing an e-based economy would not have been a viable alternative compared to your FF import bill. It also seems like with all the sheep poo you have you could have created all the NG you would ever need. LOL.

Yeah it is a shame! They would be the best government we could have had about 30-40 years ago. Unfortunately their ideas certainly don't mesh with the current reality, and certainly not with the trend towards people moving away from driving towards public transport.

Luckily there is a very good chance that the current NZ gov will be replaced by a Labour/Green coalition next election [2014]. And the Green Party [15% vote in polls] transport spokesperson is a Californian, so please keep sending your best and brightest our way!

Big issue currently is the government's funding of massive highway programme and refusal to fund expansion of electric metro transit system in the only city of scale, Auckland [1.5m].

This partly because they are essentially a provincial party and anti-urbanist but also because they are peak oil and climate change deniers. Well ignorers really, they just pretend there are no such issues, very strange.

This is amongst many other reasons why I am a member of the Green Party. I just cannot stand the idea of a government forfeiting on good long term planning. Sometimes a get the impression that many governments around the world are deliberately crippled by other interests to give the impression that corporate or plutocratic entities can do it better.

It'll be a real bitumen to repave those roads when the cars are competing for the same material. You could almost call that transportation canibalism!

Also, New Zealand has electrified both ends of the main rail line on North Island (different voltages, but easily worked around). Electrify the middle.

Do as Florida East Coast RR (five intermodal terminals in 317 miles) just build smaller ones. This could move a lot of freight around (to & from the docks for example, as well as intra-island and inter-island).

Once electrified, run EMU passenger trains once an hour between Auckland & Wellington at 150 kph. For more explanation about EMUs, this is my plan for the Washington DC area.

And more than Auckland are candidates for tram lines. The French are building two tram lines in several towns with populations in the 110,000 range. Several examples at:

Christchurch and Wellington are both viable candidates for a few tram lines. Do you have the eMail address for the Green Party Transport leader ?

Best Hopes for Kiwis,


All true Alan, but we just have a government that is destroying the rail system and frustrating the desires of the cities for any transit systems. And throwing billions away on new unnecessary and uneconomic State Highways. And remember the scale of NZ means that there is only one player for these sort of investments- the government. And not even a federal level like in Australia, or North America.

Interestingly because of increasing efficiency electricity demand seems to have flattened so if anything we look like we are going to be awash with electrons [just as the gov pushes through a foolish and ideologically driven privatisation programme of the generating assets] all the more reason to move as much transport to rails as soon as possible. 15% of current output goes to one aluminium smelter owned by Rio Tinto... and they are playing hardball to get an even cheaper deal so always threatening to pack up and leave....

From a global view this is exactly the kind of place you do want to smelter aluminium [and Iceland too] for although far from markets [the bauxite is from Australia] the power is 100% renewable. And for anyone interested the Manapouri power station is pretty spectacular:

As for Julie-Ann Genter's contacts feel free to email me: patrick[at]patrickreynolds[dot]co[dot]nz

New smelters use significantly less electricity (and labor) to produce aluminum than older smelters.

If the contract is near an end, I would open negotiations with Alcoa, Norsk Hydro and perhaps some others. Have them build a new smelter nearby.

More efficient smelters can afford to pay more.

An interesting option is to offer to add several hundred MW of wind, finish rebuilding all seven hydro-turbines & generators (if not yet done) and provide a larger base power, at a higher price.

And I will write something in a few days.

Best Hopes for the Kiwis,


Well if we could steal you and make you dictator of New Zealand transportation, we probably would.

Her email address is julieanne.genter(att)

Also Tauranga is a great possibility for light rail/tram lines given the shape, everyone would be pretty close to a line and they wouldn't have to lay very many either.

Tauranga is a horrorshow of sprawl and auto-dependency with a lovely climate. Will be extremely expensive to order as the resource constraints of this century play out. Still building crazy freeways for the modest population there.

Property values will crash. It is NZ's Florida, where old farmers retire so the baby boomer demographic bubble will be doubly bad there.

The port will continue to boom as the world will need the food NZ produces, but the spatial organisation couldn't be worse. Rail needs electrifying and a gov that understands its true value in a constrained world.

It does have some advantages, one thing is the fact that there is already a rail line running through the spine of that sprawl. Since the whole town is like spokes on a wheel it could be quite a good test case for light rail and a dispatch style bus service where the bus service is designed to go where the people are instead of people going to the buses.

The climate is absolutely perfect for cycling and I put in about 10km's a day on average because the town is flat as a pancake. Whilst it may not get there today if there is decent planning I am sure it will turn out ok long term. Once the old farts die off I'm sure the 2 bathroom/4 bedroom houses would make great candidates for co-habitation.

Edit: Also where you see wasteful lawns I see an opportunity for 'victory gardens' I.E. edible landscaping. There are pros/cons to everything and there are often silver linings.

If China imported all export oil on the world market, some 100+ nations will not have any oil at all. Sweden have a domestic fuelproduction of 4000 barrels, and we need a lot of diesel inputs to make it. If we lose our oil, we are darn sure not to import one single I-gadget from China. And then, their economy will be "de-bunked", and they can not afford to import that oilany more.

So no, they will never import all oil. I expect once they import 50% of world export, this effect will strangle their ability to import further.

"Then the question becomes, can China reduce it's oil imports substantially? Solar is one answer, nuclear is something they are going strong with, Coal to about 2015 then it levels off"
Svamp - In what way is solar or nuclear or coal a substitute for oil in powering all the ICE transport vehicles which the Chinese are buying and putting on the roads?

To the extent that they are also planning to put a lot of EV's on the road, and to the extent that they currently use oil for a lot of things besides motor fuel.

note: I don't see them reducing imports, just restraining the pace of import growth

Bingo, until they hit a natural resource wall, of course. A wall they are, together with the world, already starting to hit.

I worked and lived in China from 2003-2006. I was Dean of International Programs at Shenzhen University, professor of Engineering at Shenzhen University, and editor of the Shenzhen Journal of Technology.

In those capacities, I recommended and saw the adoption of solar powered streetlights for all new installations within Shenzhen. To do this, I worked with the municipal authorities. On other matters, I worked with provincial authorities. Generally, I found them to be knowledgeable and concerned for the welfare of their jurisdictions.

Today, the PRC is one of the largest producers of Solar Powered Streetlights.

The above comments and article show racism and bias. The article complains that the PRC is building a first class road system, because the vehicles traveling thereon will use fuel. The article glosses over the major rail expansions that it admits are ongoing, with an acknowledged 20,000 km in additional expansions in the works. The article glosses over the economic impact of rail expansions into the hinterlands of the PRC. The article fails to compare this policy with the US policy which saw the collapse of the US rail system by 50% from the end of WWII until now.

Racism is evident when the article and comments fail to recognize that the US model was adopted by the PRC and most of the ROW due to the apparent success of it. The article and comments show a complete lack of appreciation for the flexibility shown by the PRC, as evidenced by the acknowledged rapid expansions of metro systems in their cities, and their search for high speed rail solutions. Instead the article dwells upon past accidents and failures. It is obvious that the author does not have a thorough understanding of the PRC, because his observations are distorted by racism and NeoClassical Ideology.

What I am not seeing in many of the comments is how we in the US take the lead in transitioning. For example, with nearly 10^8 dwellings, surely 10^7 dwellings have south facing roofs sufficient to mount 6kw of PV, using PRC sourced panels at 40 cents/watt on a simple mounting costing 20 cents/watt, storing power using Lead Acid batteries with a 7000 cycle life would have an installed cost of $1.76/watt, producing 60Gwe of capacity, supplying power amounting to 360 Gwh / day at $ 0.072 / Kwh given an Ohio site. This is equivalent to 16 Gwe of Nuclear with no environmental degradation costs, and would be dispatchable power.

Similarly, my home refrigeration system uses 500 watt-hours daily, keeps meat frozen for months and given twice the current amount of insulation could be reduced to 250 watt-hours daily. My home lighting system uses LEDs and kerosene, which we are converting to all LEDs, and currently we run the lighting, the computer, the fridge, and navigational equipment on 600 watts of PV. Given 6kw of PV, we could have electric cooking vs our current LPG. We consume 240 Lbs of LPG annually, or 30 gallons of LPG annually. Extrapolating this to the population of 10^8 households, using PV for cooking would save 3 billion gallons of LPG annually or 7.1 million BOE annually, equivalent to 200,000 Bpd.

Would seem to me that it is high time the US provided leadership in these matters.


I don't think you'll find widespread disagreement around this place concerning the fact that China has indeed been doing a lot of the right things on the energy sector in this era.

Fuel standards is an area neither of us mentioned before. They're doing great on solar, on wind they are slipping a little but still doing good.

However, the notion that for all these efforts it might still not be enough is somehow 'racism' is beyond bizarre.

It has nothing to do with racism or bias, simply a fact that Robert Hirsch likes to repeat: Peak Oil is 'not an energy problem; it is a liquid fuels problem'. This is a key difference that needs to be understood.

China adds 20 million cars a day. Even with a better fuel economy, that is going to give them more cars than America by the end of this decade. You can build as many solar plants as you want, that isn't going to change the fact that it will greatly stress and roil the world oil markets.

Also, the proportion of electric cars projected to be sold are now down from their 2015 estimate of 1 million to mere hundreds of thousands. Last year, less than 10,000 electric cars out of a whopping 20 million were sold.

And let's not forget the fact that it takes an average of 17 years to replace an entire vehicle fleet. This is called facts, I don't know where 'racism' comes into this.

Blanket accusations of racism won't get you far on this board. Specifics and citations are pretty much the rule here. Perhaps you would grace us with a few examples; statements made in the comments that got your gander up. Or would you rather apologize...

Since you've been a TODer for over 5 years, you should know that there is more than a little criticism of US policy, culture and empire here. That said, China's situation ain't perfect either.

I continue my assertion. The PRC has a population of 1.6 billion. You are quibbling over an automobile fleet that will serve 300 million. Which will be powered by the oil from central asia, which the US desperately wants for itself. Asserted only were the high speed rail failures, not mentioned are the numerous successes. I personally traveled the length and breadth of the PRC on 160 km/hr trains 9 years ago, and great strides in higher speeds have been made since then.

When was the last time a train in the US traveled at 100 km/hr?

When will comparisons be made to best practice? For example, it is now possible to travel throughout France using rail/ bicycle transport.

When will political comparisons be made upon actual practice? You decry the PRC political system, extoling that of the US, why? The US system is the plaything of the super rich. There is not one whit of difference between the two parties. The US is a rogue state bent upon resource domination, and destined to fail, due to an ungovernable world.

Why not propose for the US a transport system akin to the French?

Why not recognize, as Gregor does, that the Chinese push for super highways was a direct consequence of US cheap oil policies in the 1990s. Did you for get $9/ bbl oil in 98? Precisely the year Campbell and Laherre published their Scientific American article, wasn't it. For a more reasoned analysis of non OECD dynamics see

I assert that the PRC leadership is rapidly coming around, did not abandon it's rail system, which you acknowledge, and is per your analysis rapidly shifting emphasis back to rail/bicycle transport ala France. Extrapolating the past 10 years forward won't provide accurate results due to these dynamics.


Yes, the freeway system of the US gives opportunity to its citizens to have a business with equal access to transportation, a big economic advantage.

An auto-dependent culture has many advantages, but it requires so much cheap energy its just not sustainable. At this point in history the Chinese leadership must know this full well, but still they continue pushing China towards auto dependency as fast as they can. What the hell are they thinking?

You overlooked an important aspect (in the words, not the pictures) - the rapid growth of efficient oil free transportation.

This decade, China plans to electrify 20,000 km of new rail lines (and build 20,000 km more new rail lines, some overlap between the two groups). There is a push to move freight from truck to rail.

OTOH, Chinese High Speed passenger rail has slowed dramatically since the major accident.

Shanghai is on the verge of having the largest and busiest Metro system in the world, with Beijing rivaling for #2 in a few years (#3 when the Paris Metro doubles (+200 km, +2 million daily riders) from 2013 to 2025). At last count (mine), 29 Chinese cities have Metros open or under construction and another 15 cities are in the planning stage.

China is a contradiction - expanding in all directions at once !

Best Hopes for more "Good" expansion,


Pushing automobiles is indeed the ultimate stimulant to a capitalist (or state capitalist) economy. By its very nature, auto-intensive development maximizes the number of direct and indirect business opportunities stemming from transportation. The size and complexity of the vehicles, plus their huge appetite for power, land, infrastructure and allied parts and services are all about as big as you could imagine without tipping over into science fiction parody.

Of course, the whole operation is also a rather obvious maximization of waste, of using the most stuff to get the least results, with no regard for the future. From an ecological/physical viewpoint, I say it may have been the greatest blunder in human history. Makes Chamberlain's trip to Munich look like a blip.

But, since it generates so much profit and so many opportunities for graft, getting the idiocy of cars on the collective agenda is one of the toughest fights in all of political life.

Shame on on China's overclass for doing this. Their late start (as with our rulers' present effort to perpetuate BAU) means the "should have known better" factor is much higher for them than it was for old-school grifters like Henry Ford.

Michael – Valid point IMHO and a good opening to a thought I’ve had lately about changing our motor fuel needs. Or being unable to. I live just outside on of the largest cities in the country – Houston. And for the last few weeks I’ve been on the city highways during non-rush hour periods: mid day/late night. The highways have been packed with vehicles of all sorts. I bet lunch that the great majority were running the roads as part of some commerce effort. Not just providers but consumers also. That really struck me driving back home 25 miles from a Huey Lewis concert at 10 PM on a Saturday night. The north freeway of Houston was packed going both ways. I’m assuming everyone was going somewhere to spend money.

I commented to my wife that there was no way to install a mass transit system that would allow this mobility. The same being true for commercial daylight operations. You comment re: the ability/necessity of small business to utilize the road system brought those thoughts back to me. Houston does have a lot of rush hour commuters. But a large portion of the folks who live in the burgs also work/shop there. Mass transit from the burgs to downtown won’t lessen their demands. And I doubt many small businessmen will take a bus to deliver products to their customers.

Yes…a very comprehensive trap we’ve designed for ourselves.

For the shopping aspect other than perhaps in rural areas I really cannot see how there is a great problem.
People do things one way today because oil/petrol is still cheap, but that doesn't mean it can't be done another way.
Here in the UK if I so wished I could have virtually everything delivered, either on the internet or the delivery services of the stores, or for food from the supermarkets delivery service.
Since the latter already offer other goods and have a functioning delivery service, they would love the opportunity to expand this if home delivery was more popular due to people switching from running cars.
Whilst the individual transaction costs might be relatively high for delivery, it would be no more expensive than running a car.
Shopping is more a social thing than anything else.
It is a touch tougher perhaps in the more expansive US suburbs, but nothing that is un-do-able.
Frito Ley is already looking to have 20% of their delivery trucks going electric.
Higher oil prices would accelerate that, and natural gas could do the longer routes.

"Shopping is more a social thing than anything else."

Ha, in the US, shopping is, in large part, recreational, a contact sport at certain times of the year. We've created a nation of mall rats with poor imaginations. I discussed this with my kids more than once, pointing out that it was disturbing that they couldn't find a lot of better things to do with their time than wandering the isles, feeding their consumerist desires looking mostly at stuff that no one really needs. Maybe it's a relic of hunter-gatherer instincts.

It seems China has hit a few snags while adopting shopping as their new national sport, but it seems they're getting the hang of it.

I think you are confounding normal human impulses with some of it's more pathological manifestations.
Sure, obsession on buying things is bad, but so is obsession about virtually anything else.

Personally I would love to spend more, not less time, shopping.
That would not however imply any massive increase in consumption or expenditure, it would just be a function of having more fresh food markets available as they have in continental Europe in many places.

Spending a couple of hours wandering historic and beautiful town centres, individually interviewing ingredients for dinner, then stopping for a relaxed lunch in a pleasant location strikes me as pretty close to my personal heaven.

Of course, in many locations it is perfectly practical to catch the metro or bike in to do so.

I can't see this would be deviated from too much by using a Twizy to get in if neither of those is practical.

Obviously the previous history of many places in the US at present makes that rather more difficult, but I understand that urban as opposed to suburban living is becoming more popular.
Here in the UK more varied and healthy foods, and more interesting places to eat, are growing in popularity and accessibility.

As for other goods, the Italian idea of 'bella figura' for instance drives quality, more than quantity.

Sure, obsession on buying things is bad, but so is obsession about virtually anything else.

Well... obsession about conservation and protecting the environment would probably be a lot less harmful than, say, the current American "our way of life is non-negotiable" and "unless you keep shopping, the terrorists are winning" mentality.

Personally I would love to spend more, not less time, shopping. That would not however imply any massive increase in consumption or expenditure, it would just be a function of having more fresh food markets available as they have in continental Europe in many places. Spending a couple of hours wandering historic and beautiful town centres, individually interviewing ingredients for dinner, then stopping for a relaxed lunch in a pleasant location strikes me as pretty close to my personal heaven.

To accomplish this in the U.S. would require a fundamental re-wiring of how people think and how businesses run. Over here, the bias is always in favor of finding ways of making repetitive tasks take *less* time, not more. Over here, "time is money", and the very idea of trying to make shopping for supper or lunch take any longer than absolutely necessary will be viewed as an excuse for laziness and wasting "productive time". That, combined with the fact that the U.S. has very few walkable cities and poor mass transit and... you get the idea.

I get at least a dose of that once or twice a week. Not ideal, but doable in New Orleans.

PS: A good catch of shrimp (a little smaller than average) and a special price - 10 lb for $25.

And flounder caught yesterday morning, $5/lb heads removed, scaled & gutted.

Creole tomatoes still in, but last day for Mississippi peaches. etc. etc.

Best Hopes for Socializing while buying,


“It seems China has hit a few snags while adopting shopping as their new national sport, but it seems they're getting the hang of it.”

that is the sad part....

This is already a reality for some folks in the U.S. in the city, burbs, rural: and other Internet shopping services...

I have developed a distinct distaste for shopping in brick and mortar stores...due to my disdain for the traffic with ever increasingly clueless drivers, the huge parking lots (more fender benders waiting to happen), the paucity of open checkouts, the unhelpful staff, the lack of selection compared to the web, etc.

Browse, read the customer reviews, compare, click, it gets delivered in a few days.

Less driving = less stress.

I already have to commute to/from work, and my family enjoys things like the zoo, movies, plays/theater, outings in parkland, the extent that I can reduce shopping trips in the car, I am happier.

If only we could bring back mixed-use walkable neighborhoods like I grew up in in Central PA...mix in some neighborhood bars, eateries, barber shops,hair salons, more community pools, basketball and tennis courts, etc. amongst the residences...also include some low-rise apartments. The trick is how to do this w/o the neighborhoods becoming 'seedy'. Maybe add in some more small community police outposts.

The vast majority of suburban houses where I've lived have been less than a mile away from a supermarket, usually with a small shopping center attached. I could strap a couple baskets on my bike and do nearly all my shopping with no gas. It would suck in January and I'd snivel a lot, but really it would barely alter my lifestyle. Getting to work is by far the most important trip I usually make.

I could strap a couple baskets on my bike and do nearly all my shopping with no gas.

Our nearest grocery store is 0.7 miles according to Google Maps and we often travel there on foot, bringing five bags of groceries home, including the push up the last two blocks up our steep Seattle hill. How? We modified a double Baby Jogger after our kids outgrew it. Works like a charm! (Of course that was back when they had real bicycle wheels.)

We call it our Pedestrian Station Wagon:

Very good Jonathan. But free advice: don't move to Houston. Or if you do move to Montrose. I know folks who drive 5 miles just to catch a bus. I don't know how you would generate the metric but Houston has to have the worst layout and mass tarnsit of any large city in the country. Close to where I live folks from the apartment complex have to walk a mile down a busy 50 mph service road because there are no side walks. Including some wheel chair bound folks, And after that section another two miles to a high priced small market. Another 2 mile walk gets them to a more affordable grocery. School cloths for the kids: add another 2 miles. OTOH the country has spent $2 billion the last few years expanding highways to the burgs.

As they say: denial is not just a river in Egypt.

The advantages of shopping in an urban location are often cited on here - from a logistics viewpoint - and living in a London suburb and having spent several weeks in Houston over the years I have a passing familiarity with the differences between the two. But one other upside to the urban experience is the potential social benefit. Nearly all my shopping is done on foot, since there are dozens of shops, restaurants, banks etc within a 5 minute stroll from my door. It is unusual not to see a friend or neighbour in those 5 minute journeys. Stopping for a 2 minute chat, or just to say "mornin'" just doesn't happen when I drive!

Dave - I agree shopping would be the easiest to modify on several levels as you point out. But that wasn’t my main focus. Examples: it's a 60 block walk round trip to go to the movies from my home. Not likely I’ll do that even in good weather. Why bother…I have cable and patience. It’s a 40 block r/t walk to Starbucks. OTOH I make better coffee (grew up in New Orleans) and a lot cheaper. It’s a 30 block r/t walk to the closet restaurant. But I usually like my cooking better…the New Orleans thing again. Lots of other examples we can think of.

But multiply those choices by tens of millions and now how many millions have lost their jobs because of all that lost business? Been a while since we touched on that point. Yes…lots of ways Americans can cut energy consumption. But folks forget how much of our very service based economy contributes to employment. Especially employment of poorly skilled workers. And no…we can’t turn burger flippers and coffee maids into solar panel engineers. This again one of the traps our society has constructed for itself. Instead of wealth distribution think of energy distribution. IOW millions make a living from wasteful energy consumption.

Consider how much energy we contribute that aids the employment of others. As I said we drove 50 miles r/t to go to that concert. Just the driving alone cost 2 gallons of gasoline. Instead of hearing Huey and the News in person I could have ordered a cd online from Amazon and not burned nearly as many Btu’s in the process. OTOH all those folks who got a paycheck that day working at the concert wouldn’t get a penny. Good for my pocket book. Not so good for the un/underemployed though.

As usual unintended consequences are sometimes hiding around the corner from a “solution”.

Have your cake (or BlueBell IC) and eat it too.

All those trips could be made by what would amount to a souped-up stretched golf cart with its speed governed to 50 mph, made of aluminum and plastic. Or think of it as a striped-down, lightened, simplified Leaf....or a resurrected Aptera or some such. Include electric scooters, traditional and three-wheel recumbent bicycles, with and without electric assistance. Some small, more frequent service, lighter-weight hybrid shuttle-vans/buses. More Zip cars...more pickups for rent, such as you can rent from some Home Depots. More truck/vans for rent, such as from U-Haul. More delivery services. More mixed-use walkable neighborhoods...corner markets and bars and salons/barber shops in converted houses...perhaps some of which where the proprietors live in the back or above...neighborhood movie houses with one two decent-sized (much bigger than Home screens, perhaps smaller than current cineplex screens) which rotate movies much more often.

Would keep the service folks afloat while being miserly with energy.

There are various spectra of possibilities between BAU and everybody sitting in their houses, out of work.

There are various spectra of possibilities between BAU and everybody sitting in their houses, out of work.

Hear, hear, but with an extra hear: The existence of these alternatives is one of the most verboten topics in American politics. Maybe the most, in fact. The powers that be simply won't hear of admitting that other possibilities exist and might even be urgently needed. That acknowledgement would constitute a huge blow to BAU in our 1-percent-dominated society. Hence, it is anathema, not "on the table."

That sounds like some "terr'ist talk" you got goin on there, pardner! Dontcha know "our way of life is non-negotiable"?

Hi Rockman.

Houston is obviously an extreme case.

As such it does not make sense when considering world energy demand and use, and the consequences of more expensive oil, to focus on there.

In fact, not only is it not representative of the world, it is not even representative of the US.

However, as others have noted, it is encouraging that even there it would be relatively trivial to provide electric transport at low cost, even though it would not compare with present cars.

There is much the same issue in talking about using electric when the problem of transport is presented as a dichotomy between the whole economy collapsing into Mad Max or Walden pond level, and maintaining the ability of a lot of people to commute 100 miles each way to work.

High oil prices would knock out extreme commutes, but most should, just with present technology without allowing for progress, be perfectly able to get to work and do their shopping.

Of course, daft transport systems such as no sidewalks will impact those unfortunate enough to live in those areas, but that is hardly a world problem, and building sidewalks etc is hardly beyond human ingenuity.

Houston just doesn't consider the pedestrians. One time I was there to walk from Walmart to Walgreen's, in the same shopping complex was a cross country treck, through swamps and untamed traffic.

You were obviously meant to drive from one car park to the other and not attempt to walk at all.

The most unbelievable statement I had ever heard was, "all of Houston's traffic problems would be fixed once I10, was out to 19 lanes", I though the man was joking about the size of I10. I have since heard it is even wider than that, and Houston still has traffic problems. What am I missing here?

When I was there, it struck me, when the road is so wide it is too far too walk across, then something is wrong.

The Texas Department of Highways said that there was not 21' to spare for a future rail line in that Katy corridor, despite the ability of Urban Rail to move at least half as many people as the 19 lanes do.

I compare the build-out of Houston Light Rail with Bordeaux in the conclusion

Can Texans work with the speed, efficiency and determination of French bureaucrats ?


Alan - To make it worse did you know there was once a rail line along the katy FWY and they took it out for the expansion. They could still run rail down the comuter lanes if wanted to some day.

Oh Yes !

I know some of the people that BEGGED TxDoT (aka Texas Dept of Highways) to leave space for a rail line after they bought the old Katy RR RoW and were planning their expansion. But 17 lanes was JUST NOT ENOUGH !

Hope for TxDoT ?


I have walked the abandoned Missouri-Kansas-Texas ("K-T") rail line, otherwise known as the "Katy Railroad" parallel to the Katy Freeway in West Houston, leading to the suburb of Katy. My observation at the time was that it would make a really good commuter rail line, having as it did grade-separated overpasses over the cross roads.

Apparently the Texas Department of Highways has annexed the old rail line to expand the freeway to 19 lanes.

Claiming they don't have 21 feet to spare is just ridiculous. The freeway is just a huge land hog and they could slip a couple of tracks into the median without anybody really noticing.

A two track light rail system has about the capacity of 16 lanes of freeway, but only takes up the same space as two lanes of freeway, and only costs about as much as two lanes of freeway - if you put the tracks into the median of a freeway. A heavy rail system costs more, but has about double the capacity - equivalent to 30+ lanes of freeway traffic. There is no way that cities the size of New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo could function without their subway/underground/metro systems. You just can't do it with freeways.

The fact is, the Texas Department of Highways just doesn't want to do it. In France, they would want to do it just because they're French, so they would do it. Liberté, égalité, chemins de fer!

"- if you put the tracks into the median of a freeway."

Imagine that.

Try this map. Sorry, the satellite image quality is not as good as for Atlanta or Houston.

If you zoom out, you will see the higher population density, lack of suburban sprawl, and narrower roads in Calgary versus Atlanta. This is deliberate urban planning and one of the reasons for the success of its rail system in a relatively small North American city (pop 1.1 million).

Notwithstanding higher density, the Economist recently rated Calgary the fifth most liveable city in the world, right behind Vancouver and Toronto.

Here is a picture of a light rail train leaving the downtown core and dropping into the median of a freeway .

Rocky - Yep...Texdot is a lost cause by any measure. These are the same folks who think it would be a good idea to increase the highway limit to 85 mph west of San Antonio. Like the joke about a guy who only owns a hammer: Texdot is great when it comes to building roads. But they don't know sh*t about anything else. And they don't need nobody tellin' them nuthin!

Oh, there you lib'ral TOD-lovers go again! Tellin' us how we oughta run our state and live our lives. Why doncha y'all go back to Califurnia or Canada and sell your tree-hugger cr@p there? Me? I'm taking the H1 out for a Big Gulp and a Macho Burrito. Take THAT, Osama! Yee haw...

Type Wickchester Lane, Houston into your favourite earth map viewer. My company HQ sits beside the Katy Freeway at it widest. The contrast between the urban planners and my view of a 'lane' are oceans apart!

Dave - One thought does come to mind about EV's and Houston work commuters. The city does have extensive isolated commuter lanes. A 50 mph limit and as safe as you'll ever be on a Texas highway. Seems like an ideal EV situation for folks who commute that 50+ mile r/t to work but may also need their car during the day for short hops or an unexpected side trip going home. I use to take the public transit that ran down the commute lanes but it was a pain when I had to go to another part of town after work...sometime going back 25 miles to the Park&Ride lot and then drive 25 miles back to downtown. One nice bonus would be that you need multiple occupancy to use the commute lane so there were always two lines at the P&R: one to get on the bus and one for free rides d/t so the driver would qualify. Sorta like a free jitney.

Hi Rockman.

Personally I very much dislike infrastructure devoted to cars rather then people, with shopping etc which is unfriendly to walk around as most of it is given over to car parks and so on.

Even so I think that it will technically be perfectly possible to have a high degree of personal mobility after oil gets much more expensive and scarce, although I would prefer a large reduction in the West.

The fundamental reason for this is that there is no problem with peak energy, only peak oil and maybe later peak fossil fuels.

How the heck is it possible to have peak energy when the average crustal abundance of thorium gives around 188 barrels of oil equivalent worth of energy per cubic metre, around 30 times more than a cubic metre of oil?

Now maybe in the West fears of everyone turning green and dying form radiation will delay deployment, but that is essentially a political issue rather than due to a shortage of energy.
The same thing applies to Taintereque arguments that nothing can be done because everything will collapse, usually associated with the present debt/financial issues.
Even if that bumps us off, it is not at root due to energy shortages, but due to political facotors.
Ancient Babylonia managed to adjust it's accounts several times by the device of Jubilee, so it seems to me that the problems whilst real and substantial should not be regarded as inevitable doom.

Solar has also dropped rapidly in price, and is certainly capable of providing vast amounts of power in most areas where people live.
My reservations on that are solely about the tendency to stick panels where it ain't sunny, not the very useful role it can play if used sensibly.

So to return to the specific case of Houston, solar power could certainly power a commuter fleet, and using current technology in the Leaf that would give a range of around 70 miles.

We know, without looking to possible breakthroughs such as Envia's, that NMC technology which is already in some batteries, could about double that.

The cost per kwh from Daimler for their Smart EV is currently $272kwh.

The Volt has also been a success, and radically reduces petrol consumed per mile.
More advanced engines such as the Dwave:
Or the Lotus:

would double or better the mpg even after the petrol engine has switched on.

As a fall back should finances not allow many to go for this sort of solution then NEVs would certainly be affordable.

Sorry about the lengthy post, but I thought it was the only way of adequately addressing why it seems in my view unlikely that force majeur will destroy Western cities, or their commutes, much as I dislike the great car society.

...changing our motor fuel needs.

Question; am I reading correctly that refineries actually lose something like $15/bbl on naptha?

Very thoughtful comment. In light of it, I hope the author of the article (Heading Out) reconsiders that use of the word "poverty", as in all the Chinese he saw back in 1987 were living in "poverty".

Back then, they had clean water and clean air. They had basic simple food. Little garbage. Local systems.

Let's not call such a lifestyle "poverty".

"Poverty" is something different. Debts, bad water, radiation in your food, can't afford to get out of a bad, unhealthful situation. Maybe some slum dwellers around the world also we could say "impoverished" about.

Ultimate poverty will be seen when the roads and cars are left as wasteful hulks while people can't find green space to grow food. Now THAT will be poverty.


I also traveled through China in 1986, two and half months taking local transport from Mongolia zig zagging my way down to Macao and then Hong Kong, venturing as much as possible to areas where we weren't technically suppose to be and taking transport options that surprised the local police at times. The country was definitely polluted then, maybe not as much as now, but each large town had its own black haze from the coal burning cookers that everybody used, or even the steam trains that the Chinese were still building at the time.

The railways had recently discovered polystyrene packaging for their food sales. The method of disposal was open train window and toss. When banana leaves were the packaging this system worked well. I am not sure how long it took them to realize that polystyrene didn't breakdown, but there was a good carpet of plastic along all the rail lines we traveled.

There was poverty there, though there also was safety nets to a degree. If you walked around the dead end streets at night you would see cots being set up for people to sleep out in the open, not sure what they did when it rained. Eating in local restaurants beggars would come, not wanting money but just to finish the food we hadn't eaten from our plates though cheap food was available at what we called government feeding factories at lunch time where "dim sims" were served and sold cheap. Each town seemed to have a slightly different style. With discounts if you had food ration tickets.

I will agree about the drinking water, we had been informed it was chlorinated through out the country, and we drank tap water all the time, no problems observed. Though in Indonesia we often had tea as this was proof that the water had been boiled. The creeks and rivers though didn't look the healthiest.

As for the toilets, i won't go into detail, but they must have been the most aromatic I have every come across in my travels around the world, and that was during the fall. I can't imagine what they would be like in summer.

They had even built some 4 lanes divided roads at that time, but they weren't used for multi-laned traffic. The road was an industrial complex in itself. People would stand on the side with either grain or coal, or what ever. Some items were for crushing, some such as the grains were there for husk removal. The drivers seemed to know which items require driving over and which required the breeze to allow separation, fascinating to watch. I imagine the roads are too busy for that sort of thing these days.

the making of tea is also to purify the water for drinking,mundane yes but crucial , boiling your drinking water every day with gas gets expensive.

If you don't have access to chlorinated water, then that is the price the people pay to stay alive.

Needs and wants, there is a difference.

the article made it sound like they were using the solar collectors for something non-essential like making tea.

My parents and sister will be taking a trip to mainland China next month, I'm likely to get access to a lot of pictures and energy related anecdotal observations given their predispositions.

I'm betting China is going to increase motor fuel taxes appreciably in the medium term, as well as raising vehicle licensing fees to slow down the rate of oil consumption increase. Also, I expect fleet efficiency to increase rapidly. Motor fuel consumption in China is going to continue to increase rapidly for the near term future, however. China has been the largest automobile market in the world since 2009 and is adding vehicles with a very minimal scrap rate. Some estimates are that the Chinese vehicle fleet size will pass the U.S. in the next 10-15 years. I think VMT and cars per person will both be restrained below what is currently expected due to active government policy.

The US has about 275 m vehicles on the road. China only recently had large sales numbers for vehicles, but they must have at least 70 million (probably more). So if the chinese new-vehicle market is now 20 m per year, they'll catch up in about 10 years assuming the US fleet is stable.

I shall add that many people in Fukushima are having preemptive abortions rather than give birth to children with defects.
There are butterflies all around with stumps instead of wings.
There are rice fields where no rice may be sold or eaten because of radiation.

Water in the rivers and reservoirs is radioactive.
What is poverty, exactly??

If you asked people in Fukushima: "would you like to go back and live 200 years ago, when all your water was clean, the food was clean, people lived until 40 or 50, maybe 60, but they didn't live with the fear they have now, then would you?" I bet many, a majority would say "yes".

Sure in the past there was infanticide and high mortality of children and older people, but now there are millions who can't afford to have a family and live alone, watching DVDs. Or they worry about radiation, losing their job, etc.
Nuclear power and the auto age go together and they both bring more problems than they solved and just make people (in the end, after they wake up to the real problems and the TRUTH) VERY VERY SAD!!!!!

China will have just the same type of awakening.

It's really an endless nightmare for those of us in Japan.

'I shall add that many people in Fukushima are having preemptive abortions rather than give birth to children with defects.'

Yeah, just like after Chernobyl the hysterics who blather on about risk have been the major cause of loss of life, far more so than even the perfectly barmy loss 'estimates' based on linear no threshold give.

Jacobson, the anti nuclear campaigner, released this:
'Stanford University released a study that projected 130 people, primarily in Japan, will die from cancer over the next 50 years as the result of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

'The group of companies that comprise Japan Airlines Co. Ltd. (JAL) has a fleet of about 280 aircraft and carries around 52 million passengers each year. Thus, using the same crude estimate of radiation exposure during a flight that I used before—which is roughly comparable to the crude estimate of radiation exposure calculated by "a 3-D global atmospheric model," since I rely on measured statistics, while the Stanford paper relies on a computer model of dubious quality using inputs with unspecified uncertainties—I can calculate a collective dose. The result is about 2100 passenger-Sv of equivalent dose in a 16-month period.

So using the same lazy reasoning, back-of-the-envelope estimation, and LNT assumption that Ten Hoeve and Jacobson use in their paper (e.g., on page 12 of the PDF), I conclude that their methodology predicts that, since March 2011, the date of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, JAL has been responsible for an additional 240 passenger cancers and 120 eventual cancer deaths'

There is nothing in this world which does not have some level of risk attached.
Those of nuclear power are routinely exaggerated by several orders of magnitude.

People seem to have missed the sea of fire the oil and gas installations became after the earthquake and tsunami, incinerating unknown numbers of people, not to mention giving off vast clouds of carcinogenic smoke.

And the idea that renewables, even at the 50cents kwh that solar runs at in Japan, can run without massive inputs from much, much more dangerous fossil fuels is a fantasy.

Had the winds been blowing differently, Tokyo would have comparable to the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Nuclear is simply too dangerous to use close to valuable cities and large populations.

Perhaps in central Georgia, where the USA can stand a 0.25% chance of losing that area for a century plus.


PS: It is predictable that a Chinese nuclear reactor will have a massive radiation release, tens of millions of people should be evacuated (will they be ?) and millions forced out of their homes in the new exclusion zone.

I am sure you will find a way to minimize that, and/or blame the Chinese, for this future accident.

I would ban trains immediately then.
There are far more confirmed deaths from them than nuclear power.

There is no proven medical risk below around 100mSV if the exposure is over a year rather than sudden as a result of, say, an X-ray which has several orders of magnitude more dose for a fraction of a second than the bodies defence mechanisms can cope with.

Even according to Jacobson the (exaggerated numbers) of deaths were due to evacuating the old and sick, not radiation.

The real killer has been heat prostration due to switching off nuclear reactors which are in locations which cannot possibly be hit by tsunami, not radiation deaths:

If there were a Fukushima type incident at the nuclear plant a few miles from where I live, extremely unlikely though that is, I would simply keep the windows closed for a few days, and not go out more than I had to.

Fossil fuels kill hundreds of thousands every year, mostly through air pollution, in their routine operation without needing to be hit by a 15 metre tsunami to do so.
Reactors in Japan stood up just fine to a 9.0 earthquake, something which is entirely ignored by the anti nuclear campaigners who had predicted doom from earthquakes.

Renewables simply cannot with anything remotely like present technology replace fossil fuels, in fact they are utterly dependent on them.
They are a false 'solution'.

Any half-way numeric risk assessment shows that nuclear is enormously safer than the real alternatives, as opposed to fantasy.

Germany has just opened a nice new 2.2GW coal plant, which they would not do if it were not needed to 'support' renewables, ie provide most of the actual power.

The Tokyo area (with about 30 million people living there) would have been a Chernobyl type exclusion zone if the winds had just blown south, perhaps with some rain, instead of east - out to sea.

A point you refuse to accept (it *IS* true).


PS: Although I suspect that you would advocate growing potatoes and wheat within a few meters of the Chernobyl sarcophagus - No *PROVEN* harm in eating radionuclides in our food.

"A point you refuse to accept (it *IS* true)."

That depends on what your definition of *IS* is :-0

Fukushima release of Cesium 137 into the air 423% more than Chernobyl (and still growing ?)

And that is the TEPCO estimate, which may well be conservative.


PS: Cs137 is one of the major (if not the major) radionuclides that is keeping people out of the exclusion zone @ Chernobyl.

Now consider steady winds from the north to the south, with intermittent showers, going through Fukushima in the first week or two - and the resulting impact on the Tokyo area.

Thank you for this excellent comment!

Also, I want to direct everyone to the recent article about butterflies (in the journal NATURE) exposed to internal radiation in Japan.

The highest rates of deformities are seen near Fukushima, of course.

Stumps instead of wings, legs that are necrosied, feelers that cannot function, eye deformities.

The researchers made the point that the deformities are from internal radiation. And that plutonium is probably partly to blame.

Very scary.

electrical vehicles and taxis are being introduced, with a target of half-a-million vehicles by 2015. This is now seen as an area of growth, especially in battery development, and a target of 5 million cars has been set for 2020.

I don't think EVs will sell well in China for now. So many of the car-buyers are new car buyers that presumably already have a way to get to work. So they are often buying a car for week-end driving (where EVs suck) not commuting (where EVs shine).

BTW, from a linked article "The Volt’s tariff-weighted price of around $79,000 is just about double what one starts for in the U.S." Why do we let them get away with such high tariffs on our goods? It seems like there is a trade war where we already lost.

I submit the PRC is way more complicated than most any of us can fathom.

690 million or so urban dwellers
650 million or so rural dwellers

That's just the first layer of the onion. :-)

Although China's energy situation is clearly problematic, for comparison sake I recommend folks read Stoneleigh's recent post over at TAE:

India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come?

Similar size countries, similar populations and problems, different demographics and governments, and it seems, somewhat different outcomes. One wonders if there's much power theft in China.

In rural areas that lack grid power [reliable or otherwise], solar installations such as this make good sense:

A communal-based solar-powered recharging station for mobile phones and other small USB powered devices would be ideal as well.


I posted this link a couple of weeks ago. Each home in the village gets a small power panel to power a CFL and charge stuff.

Most of these efforts are private, foreign NGOs, and UN led. While we argue over incentives, cost parity, and NIMBYism, the worldwide need for these small, distributed micro-grids is huge. It's hard to put a price on the real value of these small installations.

I had missed your earlier post, Ghung, so I'm glad you shared this link again. And you're absolutely right; these distributed micro-grids are enormously valuable to the communities they serve.

Addendum: For additional background on this initiative, see: