Tech Talk - The Dangers of Complacency

Perceptions based on perhaps too small a collection of information can lead into opinions that, on investigation, turn out to be incorrect. Just recently a couple of friends had mentioned that charities that they are associated with were seeing a decline in donations. I built this into a picture of the general public being less able to afford earlier levels of giving, perhaps because of the continued impact of higher costs of fuel. However, the perception is as a general statement, wrong, and (via the National Park Service from The Giving Institute) I learned that:

Americans gave more than $298.42 billion in 2011 to their favorite causes despite the economic conditions. Total giving was up 4 percent from $286.91 in 2010. This slight increase is reflective of recovering economic confidence.

The greatest portion of charitable giving, $217.79 billion, was given by individuals or household donors. Gifts from individuals represented 73 percent of all contributed dollars, similar to figures for 2010.

In the perception that is becoming increasingly prevalent on the future of energy supplies, and particularly on crude oil, the current adequacy of supply is projected forward to anticipate no problems with supply in the future. Peak oil is now suggested to occur not because the supply is limited, but because with the increasing use of renewable energy, demand will peak, and then decline. Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich is quoted as projecting that the growth in fossil fuel use will almost stop by 2030, while Citi Commodity Researchers are suggesting that the increases in prices will drive increases in efficiency that will bring a peak in oil demand “much sooner than the market expects.”

Figure 1. Projected changes in global oil demand (Citi Commodity Researchers)

This anticipation of future gains in efficiency of use is a common thread to pictures of the future from the three major oil companies that I recently reviewed. All three, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP expect that energy efficiency gains will have a major impact on demand. BP, for example, anticipates that through 2030 energy demand will increase 36 percent, but that without this improvement in efficiency global energy would have to double by 2030.

One of the problems in assessing the changes in efficiency over time is that when looking at the past decade, one has to recognize the significant impact of the recession. For example, the Odyssee project looked at energy use in Europe and clearly showed the impact of the recession on demand.

Figure 2. Changes in electricity use in the countries of Europe following the start of the recession (Odyssee)

What also caught my attention in looking where most of the energy savings were occurring was that it was in countries catching up to Western Europe, rather than in the more established West, and that when the overall savings are totaled these appear to have slowed significantly.

Figure 3. Overall energy savings in the EU relative to a 2000 baseline (Odyssee)

The second problem with the curve that Citi projects lies in the rate at which vehicles are switched from diesel and gasoline to natural gas power. There is currently an economic incentive in parts of the world to make this change. It currently sells at around the equivalent of $2.10/gallon in the USA. Yet it requires both infrastructure and an investment of capital to make the change at any level of significance. Nevertheless it remains a key ingredient of the Pickens Plan that Boone Pickens has been selling around the country for a number of years now.

The fact that Clean Energy Fuels can list all 22 stations that added natural gas pumps along the “Natural Gas Highway” in the November-January period, this does not indicate a great rush to build that infrastructure. It is easier to change the local distributor networks, with companies such as Waste Management indicating that they will use CNG in 80 percent of their new trucks, than it is to see the rapid change of the longer distance haulers, and for passenger vehicles. A recent article in the Washington Post noted that only 20,381 vehicles ran on natural gas of the 14.5 million new cars and trucks sold last year. Further not only does a CNG vehicle cost more to purchase, it also has a lower range, although for some applications that may not be much of a handicap.

Figure 4. Average Annual Vehicle miles travelled by category (Alternate Fuels Data Center)

Yet, at the moment, it is the use of ethanol that is having the most impact on alternate fuel use. Other than that, there has been little indication of much change in the market.

Figure 5. Alternate Fuel Vehicles in use from 1995 to 2010 (Alternate Fuels Data Center )

And in this regard, Europe has also seen little movement toward the use of natural gas in contrast with the use of biofuels, and neither has made large gains.

Figure 6. Comparative penetration of liquid fuels market in Europe by biofuels and natural gas (Odyssee)

The problem, of course, is that if these improvements in efficiency and switches to alternate fuels do not occur, then the demand will continue along the Business-As-Usual line, and, as BP forecasts, demand will double by 2030.

The question as to what will be available to meet that enhanced demand remains one of the great imponderables that folk seem, again, unwilling to face. Certainly with a steadily increasing demand, and the constraints on supply that these pages have continued to document over the years, it becomes very difficult to see how price stability can be maintained where demand exceeds supply at a given price. The problems that this will bring, particularly to those nations that now subsidize fuel, a policy that is unlikely to change in Asia, are likely to be major. Yet for countries such as India, which last year spent the allocated fuel subsidy budget for the year by the end of July, the political costs of change remain very high and could well remain in place until the financial burden becomes intolerable.

Unfortunately, with the current complacency, at that point it will then be too late to start searching for alternate answers.

Your charity example seems a little off. The stat compared 2011 to 2010. What time period were your friends referencing?

The comments have been made over the last year, but the report that I cited was the latest I could find in a simple search, and given that it occurred post the depth of the recession, I thought it valid.

My guess is that the number of charities probably grew during that period. So the donations to existing charities could have gone down while aggregate giving went up. As with EROEI the total giving number doesn't actually tell you what the available donations (after fund raising costs) that charities have. In fact in a major national non profit that I was involved in - they had a negative return. The harder they tried the less net cash they had because they didn't understand the difference between their average cost of fund raising and their marginal cost of fund raising.

Christian charity was historically about helping those in need when they needed to be helped.

Christian charity was never about the world population expanding forever, or burning through our energy inheritance as quickly as we can, or everybody bankrupting themselves to support everyone else.

If it has morphed into that, one has to wonder if it's outlived its usefulness.

I'll say what needs to be said: the most charitable thing you can give someone is condoms and birth control and teach them how to use it.

I grew up when "Christian charity" was what stood between most people and a miserable life.

Christian charity was extended mostly to those who were in some way related to church members, by blood or familiarity. "The others" were largely left out.

That is not the sort of society I wish to live in. I'm will to contribute a tiny bit of my resources to a safety net for everyone, not just those with connections.

Something could happen to me, I might need some help, and I might not belong to right church.


Thank you for the interesting post.

energyblues and Bob W,

Could you please take the gratuitous bashing of Christian charities to a different site? Dave was not talking about Christian charities; he was talking about all charities.


If that bothers you then feel free to read "special group charities" in place of "Christian charities". I would guess that all religious charities and social group charities operate roughly the same.

The point is, voluntary charities generally serve those "most like us" and ignore those "not like us". I prefer every person living in the US is "one of us".

>> I prefer I prefer every person living in the US is "one of us".. <<

I agree. And being a global citizen, I propose 'every person living in the world is "one of us"'

I'll say what needs to be said: the most charitable thing you can give someone is condoms...

energyblues, maybe if things get bad enough the Pope might one day say that. It would be hard to imagine.

The most charitable thing is to give women education and work opportunities outside the home.

That'll reduce the birth rate toot suite.

Tout de suite, s'il vous plait :)

This site was heaviliy read and commented at before and during 2008 while a downturn looked imminent. Matt Simmons made fateful predictions which turned out to be at least over-prescient. We've now had two centuries of seeming false alarms of Malthusian catastrophe - and that makes people sceptical let alone complacent.
The situation is made more complacent by the msm's distorted reporting. The "Arab Spring" and Syria crises are presented as purely political developments with no reference to the resource-shortages that triggered them. Likewise in a country extremely near here many people are in suicidal despair at no longer being able to afford food and shelter, and yet this does not get reported in the media other than in dribs and drabs. Rich people are still sitting comfortably high and so do not see that the tide coming in is already drowning those lower (who are dismissed as scroungers and "workshy" anyway).

Likewise in a country extremely near here many people are in suicidal despair at no longer being able to afford food and shelter, and yet this does not get reported in the media other than in dribs and drabs.

I knew houses were getting expensive in Canada, but I had no idea it had gotten this bad.

I thought the suicidal despair was due to the fact that the only Canadian team left in the NHL playoffs is the Ottawa Senators.

"20,381 vehicles ran on natural gas of the 14.5 million new cars and trucks sold last year"

Somewhere between 50,000 and 53,000 EVs and PHEVs were sold last year.

We should expect a major increase in Nissan LEAF sales in the US, the UK, and Australia following quite significant price decreases.

The race away from petroleum is on....

The race away from petroleum is on?

There are a billion internal combustion vehicles on the planet now, consuming at least 4x more energy, in the form
of petroleum, than their owners do in the form of food calories.

Cars are the dominant "life form" on the planet.

Typical new American car engine is about 30x more powerful than typical grid-tied residential solar system, but it's the
embedded investment in internal combustion machines than is the concern. EVs and PHEVs will grab bigger market share, but
in our household the youngest car is 9 years old, the old beater pickup is 51, the subdivision snowplow is 41.

Turnover in a soft economy is slow, might slow further in the future, and thus the weight of sunk investments seals the
coffin door tightly.

Yes, the race is underway.

End of April, year to date, EV sales are up 208% 2012 to 2013. PHEVs are up 38%.

Yes, the relative numbers are small.

Do you happen to know how many personal computers and typewriters there were in 1980? Who won, computers or typewriters?

BTW, 50% of all American driving is done with cars that are five years old or newer. It's not the case that we need to get all the old oil-burners off the road in order to drastically cut petroleum use. Those old puppies aren't big oil users in the grander scheme of things.

People who drive a lot are the most fuel price-sensitive. It will pay them to move away from ICEVs soonest.

Could you say that the number of oil powered cars on the road is decreasing? My WAG is that total cars are increasing, and the fact that 5% of all new cars are not oil based, (though the distinction between LPG and what is generally classed as oil these days is slim at best) is not enough of an increase to proclaim that we are racing away from oil. It's more like the way the industrialist transitioned to oil, they didn't reduce the amount of coal they were burning, coal use was increasing even as people welcomed the petroleum era. I suspect many people will tout the increase in non oil powered transport, along with some blind extrapolation of current growth rates, without ever looking at what is happening to traditional ICE's. Of course oil is a global commodity, and just looking at the US is not always that helpful when the global situation is that China is seeing an explosion in car sales. So the 50% of new car owners in the US may be more significant in the US then the grander scheme of things. I imagine that far more oil is burnt by trucks then the 5 year or newer cars, which is probably relevant too.

From what I have seen of people who drive a lot, company cars etc. it's not exactly obvious that they have made much of a descision based on fuel economy. Mostly the descision seems to be based on looking flash, and one-upmanship.

I wouldn't be surprised if the number of horses in use increased for a while after Henry brought out the T.

How did it work out for horses?

BTW, the Chinese government has started a major push to put their citizens into EVs. They are installing a lot of charge points and offering subsidies. China has to import oil. China does not have to import sunshine and wind.

How did it work out for horses? ~ Bob W

If you back up a little from the timeline, the verdict is still out.

You might have noticed a periodic TOD quote upper-right, something about a grandson riding a camel.

Let's see.

Someone living in a country which has immense amounts of sunshine is going to ride a camel rather than a solar-electricity powered EV?


I must say, however, that camels are very nice riding beasties. I'll take one over a horse, water buffalo or elephant any day.

I suspect that human's propensity for technology is, paradoxically, becoming and will become their undoing as much as it has been their success.
EV's are just another (silly?) manifestation.
When all is said and done and the dust settles, if there are still some straggling struggling humans left over, they will likely once again run with their propensity, and smash their heads along the way against the glass ceilings of natural constraints until they no longer can, perhaps because the last smash is the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Even a basic car has very many advantages over owning a horse.
Even though there is some kind of push toward EV's, far more ICE's are getting built. It's more a case of broadening the energy mix, as opposed to 'racing' away from FF's as you blindly believe.

The typical EV uses 0.3 kWh per mile. The average US driver piles up 13,000 miles per year. 3,900 kWh/year. 10.7 kWh/day.

If you live in one of the less sunny parts of the US you average 4.2 solar hours per day over a year. That means that a 3 kW solar system will produce more electricity per year than you would use to drive your annual 13k.

Right now installed solar, no subsidies, is running $2/watt in Germany. We'll likely get down to that price in a couple of years. For $6,000 you could buy a solar system that would "fuel" your ride for the next 40+ years.

$6,000 for 520,000 miles (13k x 40 years). One penny per mile.

And that's why EVs will replace gasmobiles.

(Most of our EV charging will be done with wind power, which costs even less. But the solar math is easier to see.)

I can see PVs and EVs, it may take a while for people to realize that you don't need 400 mile range. One EV maker did a deal with a car rental company, in you purchase or lease is a great deal on car rentals, put all those out of town miles on their cars.

We need EVs with about 200 mile ranges. That's the 'fully functional' threshold. Drive 200 miles, get a 90% recharge in less than 20 minutes, drive 180, recharge 20m.

That's a full 500 mile driving day with two modest stops. Good enough for just about anyone. Got to eat/pee/check messages/walk the dog anyway.

We're installing rapid charge stations along our major travel corridors. The goal is to have a place to recharge at least every 35 miles. Which, I seem to remember, was the maximum distance for gas stations when I-5 opened through the Central Valley.

The race away from petroleum is on?

There are a billion internal combustion vehicles on the planet now, consuming at least 4x more energy, in the form
of petroleum, than their owners do in the form of food calories.

Cars are the dominant "life form" on the planet.

Typical new American car engine is about 30x more powerful than typical grid-tied residential solar system, but it's the
embedded investment in internal combustion machines than is the concern. EVs and PHEVs will grab bigger market share, but
in our household the youngest car is 9 years old, the old beater pickup is 51, the subdivision snowplow is 41.

Turnover in a soft economy is slow, might slow further in the future, and thus the weight of sunk investments seals the
coffin door tightly.

EV's are not a source of energy. But it is a step in the right direction over time if enough renewables are put in place to energize the EV's.

Cars present additional challenges that go well beyond the fuel they consume.

Their overall per capita energy consumption and required road space is far higher than public transit in cities. Their massive publicly-owned and maintained road infrastructure often consumes more than 40 percent of a city's land base, no matter what fuel they use. They radically alter the inner city-suburb affordability maps when both housing and transportation are accounted for:

Everyone here can see that the marriage between cars and cheap oil created dysfunction in cities from the start. The dependency cycle, in my opinion, will still break down even with EVs and PIHs. The breakage may well occur along the public and individual/family financial fault lines: Roads consume huge portions of local and regional government resources; EVs and PIHs will continue the automobile drain on family budgets, and will impose further costs on society with inefficient per capita electrification costs; and both will be subject to increasingly volatile economies.

In my view, public policy and finances should be directed to major investments in renewable electricity generation and urban public transit using the existing road and rail land bases. In addition, electrifying the continental railways and perhaps establishing an electrical grid-based trucking industry (if it's not outcompeted by rail) are ways to ease the potentially destabilizing transition to a society that needs to lower its addiction to inefficient per capita energy use in all its forms, and especially when economic stability is not guarenteed.

Their overall per capita energy consumption and required road space is far higher than public transit in cities.

You would think that, but it's not true. Urban electrically powered transit uses about .35kWhrs per pax-mile, slightly more than EVs. Buses use much more than that per pax-mile.


Because transit systems don't just serve commuters - they have to run 24x7, and serve every corner of population. That means a lot of lightly used trains and buses.

Is road maintenance for personal transportation expensive?

No, it's trucks that beat up roads.

Are personal vehicles expensive?

Yes, but that's because we throw them away 1/3 of the way through their lifetime. Depreciation is more expensive than fuel for most people.

Urban electrically powered transit uses about .35kWhrs per pax-mile, slightly more than EVs.

This is about building efficient communities more than it is about one single mode of transport.

Where I live (Vancouver) there are ~1.5 million cars for a metropolitan population of ~2.5 million. At, say, 0.25 kWhrs per passenger km for EVs ... well, you can begin to count the number of pristine mountain valleys in BC that will have to be dammed to create more power to replace even a portion of these cars.

But power isn't everything. Yes, EVs are more efficiennt than ICE vehicles, but you have to include the embodied energy of building both, and compare that to the embodied energy of building transit vehicles to move the equivalent number of people. Yes, rooftop PV panels may help take the burden off the grid, but they certainly do not address the other part of the debate: urbanism. Cars themselves are a big part of the problem when you look at land use as well as energy. The vast, unsustainable suburbs are testament to that, and very few of them pay their way in terms of public roads and services extended to the horizon, and place a serious emissions load into the atmosphere from low density sprawl. EVs may help with personal / private mobility, but they will will still require a huge public subsidy.

The articulated electric trolley + diesel buses in Vancouver hold over 100 passengers, which takes probably 30-40 cars off the road per bus at peak times. Broadway Ave is North America's busiest bus route with thousands of pass-ups every day. You can imagine the debate over what form of rail transit should take the burden in future (subway or light rail). No one is suggesting adding more EVs to the roads.

They just completed the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge here for $Canadian 3.3 billion. The accompanying freeway network pushed the costs to well over $C 6 billion, not including financing. The former 4-lane bridge was still in good condition, but was at capacity during peak times only because 71 percent of the traffic in both directions was comprised of vehicles with a single occupant travelling to / from the low density suburbs. Transit was not allowed on the bridge because of a "lack" of road space, though some transit afficiandos calculated that building inexpensive queue-jumping lanes exclusively for buses would have made a dramatic difference. This is just another way of using the existing road system more efficiently instead of sinking society ever deeper in to debt to prop up car dependency. Six billion would have just about completed our rapid transit network with enough change for hundreds more buses. As it stands, the bridge tolls would barely start putting a dent into the interest on the debt when the next series of petroleum price spikes comes down the pipe.

So, here's a scenario for you, Nick. Build electrically-powered rail transit in its many forms in cities, back it with electric buses and -- very importantly -- accompany it with appropiate land use planning (i.e. create walkable and transit-oriented communities) instead of subsizing suburban SO EVs on the public road system, and in doing so free up several square km of road space within our cities for the commercial and freight sector ... or housing and parks.

At, say, 0.25 kWhrs per passenger km for EVs ... well, you can begin to count the number of pristine mountain valleys in BC that will have to be dammed

You might want to do the math. You'll be surprised by how little more power is needed. A onetime investment of $2,500 worth of wind turbines will power a vehicle forever. $2.5k will buy about 1.25kW of wind power. At 30% capacity factor, that's 9kWhs per day. At 3.5 miles per kWh, that's about 30 miles per day, which is the average for the US.

you have to include the embodied energy of building both

Manufacturing takes less energy than you think. The operating fuel is by far more important.

Keep in mind: rush hour commuting and inter-urban transportation are well suited for trains, but mass transit is terrible for everything else. It's extremely expensive to have frequent bus service (or electric trolleys) 24x7 to every location.

Labor is by a long way the big expense for mass transit, not energy. Energy consumption is almost a footnote for the average transit system.

Trains are not good for rush hour commuting, as almost all commuting is towards the nearest city centre, and most of the commuters time their journey to arrive at exactly the same time as each other, every day, then leave at exactly the same time each evening.

This generates huge bottlenecks of both people and trains at city centre stations and requires large numbers of trains to be shunted into sidings to sit empty most of the day, or run nearly empty back to the suburbs.

The solution of course is to dump the 9-5 city commute for staggered work days or telecommuting, or to move the office out of the city.

Perhaps the way to phrase that is to say that trains are much better than personal vehicles for commuting.

Your point is a good one: commuting is a big pain, and it would be better to eliminate it as much as possible with telecommuting, distributed offices, etc.

For better or worse, people like to congregate, and employers are afraid of telecommuting...

Keep in mind: rush hour commuting and inter-urban transportation are well suited for trains, but mass transit is terriblefor everything else. It's extremely expensive to have frequent bus service (or electric trolleys) 24x7 to every location.

That is because North American cities beyond the inner city have been designed exclusively for cars for the past seven decades. The high cost of transit labour to service low density automobile suburbs is obvious. What is not as obvious (or is the object of willful ignorance) is the high taxpayer support and energy to extend public services and infrastructure that much further into low-density suburbs. Energy is one measure of this support. Land and public financial resources are others. The mayor of Calgary, one of Canada's more car-dominated cities, pegged the subsidy at about $10,000 per suburban house, which reinforces his requests for more transit funding from senior governments, and eventually greater transit-supported densities at the periphery.

The low operating cost of Vancouver's driverless SkyTrain system is well known locally. It has resulted in a high-quality service with exceptionally high frequencies. A few clicks on a keyboard sends a dozen trains where they need them most without an army of drivers working annoying split-shifts at union-scale wages waiting in the wings. The system has a higher capital cost because it is grade-separated, but the service frequency and reliabiity has made the construction of the SkyTrain system one of the greatest economic stimulation projects ever accomplished here, mostly in the form of transit oriented development. The original Expo Line operates at a net profit and has fostered something like ten times its original capital cost in the value of medium and high density, mixed use development within 500 m of the line over the last quarter century. Show me one freeway filled with EVs that can claim the same. Moreover, higher ridership divides the per passenger energy consumption into smaller units. Yes, the trains are often packed.

Vancouver's electric trolley bus service is also quite frequent with decent ridership and its success is in part due to the more-efficent grid layout of streets (as opposed to closed off neighbourhoods filled with cul-de-sacs and mobilized with oversized arterials) in a city that rejected freeways in the late 60s. The bus network backs up the rapid transit system to a great extent.

Transportation in the city is almost the reverse of the suburbs here. The recent completion of the Canada Line (also driverless) has resulted in billions in development propopsals within the first two years along the route. The demand is so high that one development directly adjacent to a station sold out (430+ units) in less than four hours, and had 27,000 people on its registration list. The developer's and the city's market research indicated that about 1/4 of the residents purposely chose this location so they did't have to own a car (EV or otherwise) and therein saved on suites without an additional $40,000 tacked onto the list price for each underground parking stall, and another several thousand a year financing and operating it. Further, a good chunk of the parking was reserved for car co-ops, yes, some fleets with a smattering of EVs and hybrids. Clearly, transit, when done well with land use planing, can displace cars of all kinds and can create an affordable housing legacy and leave individuals and families with more disposable income. EVs and communities with high levels of car dependency cannot offer benefits like this.

You asked me to do the math. Well, I'd like to see some numbers comparing the obviously much, much higher kW / hrs per passenger km / mile for a suburban bus milkrun (with very low ridership) to a very frequent subway service (with very high ridership) in the inner city. Was your $0.35/kWhr per passenger mile averaged and compared with several transit modes in places like suburban Atlanta or Manhattan? And what about the per passenger energy consumption of London's or Tokyo's transit systems where ridership is very high? Without doing the math, my gut tells me the energy consumption in disparate locales and varying ridership levels will not be the same. Therefore, the quoted figure cannot be applied to all situations everywhere.

But it makes for interesting conversation.

An interesting, and potentially very long conversation.

To start: RockyMountainGuy lives in the neighborhood, and claims that Skytrain's operating costs aren't much lower than conventional trains, IIRC in part due to the cost of central monitoring. Have you seen operating cost data for Skytrain, including pax-miles, labor, etc?

The information I have is from this site, which I do find a bit biased, but he does supply sources:

In my own experience I regularly see one train every 75 seconds in each direction at the downtown Burrard Station during the afternoon rush hour. That is eight trains arriving and departing every five minutes. There is no way that light rail can match this frequency with eight drivers in addition to dispatch staff at a lower cost. Yes, there may be a few less union-scale staff at the automated train control centre, but each can handle more than one train at a time. Frequency is the key.

During the 2010 Winter Olympics we saw the transit system move almost the equivalent of the entire metro population every day. To urbanists like me, that was a phenomenal acheivement. Four regional rail lines (three electric rapid transit, one diesel commuter rail service) was the backbone, and buses made up the rest. Several road lanes were dedicated to transit use.

I am not biased to one particular transit mode over another. I feel the technology must be adapted to the circumstances, and generally this means grade separation in city centres (automated SkyTrain or heavy subway vehicles) and light rail futher out, and buses everywhere. There is a huge potential for light rail in the suburbs wher frequency is not as crucial, and coupled with land use measures, it can go a long ways to making our cities more efficient from a number of perspectives.

Transit competes with cars, including EVs, and each has different influences on urban areas.

It bears repeating: transportation is larger than just energy consumption. Inefficient land use and public finances, infrastructure and services play huge roles in propping up car dependency. It doesn't matter one whit to a public road whether the vehicles that travel on it are electrically powered or not.

Here in Vancouver the value of transit-oriented development tends to outstrip the capital cost of rapid transit by orders of magnitude over time. This was planned for in the 90s. Moreover, the increasing riderhip from years of development on the lines have made them profitable.

Vancouver's SkyTrain is driverless, therefore high labour costs are not that relevant. Yet the system offers very high frequencies and service quality. This attracts billions in development where about 1/4 of the condos do not have associated underground parking with their $40,000 per stall cost, and can affect greater levels of disposable individual and family income by not being encumbered with the costs of finacing and operating a car.

The bus fleet in the city operates on a more efficient street grid pattern and also has decent ridership.

The greater the ridership, the greater the subdivision and lower per passenger energy consumption. It would be great to compare the per passenger energy consumption between suburban Atlanta and Manhattan. Or London and Paris to Calgary and Houston.

transportation is larger than just energy consumption.

I agree. The power needed for either electric mass transit *or* EVs is very small.

I like trains - I ride electric trains every day. But, the population densities needed to justify a chauffered vehicle passing within walking distance every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day and 7 days per week is obtainable in very few places, including the UK and France.

Yes, Transit Oriented Development is great. On the other hand, N America is overbuilt with residential housing - there's no way to justify rebuilding it all any time soon.

Trains are great, but they're not the primary solution to eliminating fuel for personal transportation - EVs (hybrid, PHEV, EREV, etc) are.

N America is overbuilt with residential housing - there's no way to justify rebuilding it all any time soon.

Given that we can generate all the energy we need to power electric vehicles and assuming we can build our vehicles with sustainable materials, is there any need to give up our suburban and rural residences?

If someone wishes to spend some of their earnings to purchase a vehicle/electricity and pay for road upkeep in order to have a yard or a few acres of privacy, why not?

One of the increasingly prevalent issues is that property owners at the periphery do nnot pay their fair share of public roads and services. The population is just too thin, yet the cost of road building and utility trenching and maintenance per km remains the same.

That cost is paid for by the suburban cities and counties in which those people live, right? Aren't maintenance costs pretty well proportional to traffic levels?

Do we have data to support the idea that suburban roads are subsidized by urban residents?

Where I live (Vancouver) there are ~1.5 million cars for a metropolitan population of ~2.5 million. At, say, 0.25 kWhrs per passenger km for EVs ... well, you can begin to count the number of pristine mountain valleys in BC that will have to be dammed to create more power to replace even a portion of these cars.

Cars in BC are driven an average of 13,000km/yr[1], so that would add up to about 3,200kWh/yr, or 5,000kWh/yr (1.5 cars per household). The average electricity consumption for a BC household is 10,000kWh/yr[2], so this would increase household electricity use by 50%.

However, note that BC Hydro produces 50B kWh/yr[3], so this would represent only a 10% overall increase in electrical demand. As Hydro's power is 85% hydro from 30 dams, we would need an extra 0.1*30/.85=~3.5 dams.

Thus, roughly speaking, each extra dam would support replacing 30% of Vancouver's cars with EVs.

[1] x
[2] x
[3] x

Good info.

And, of course, BC has significant wind resources, if you don't like dams. Heck, even solar would work, though wind would be more cost effective (and work nicely with both hydro balancing and EV DSM).

And, given that much of BC's power is exported, wind power could be installed in a lot of places in the lower 48 to replace power needed at home for new demand.

There are lots of good solutions...

There is also a lot of potential for in-stream tidal and hot geothermal power on BC's coast. Because the former has perfectly predictable intermittency and the volcanic formations are located nearby, together they could supply significant baseload power for new industries. How the world could use low-carbon cement and steel using electric induction furnaces!

It bothers me to no end that BC enacted North America's first carbon tax but none of the revenue is directed to R&D into such promising renewables or to mass transit.

in-stream tidal and hot geothermal power on BC's coast.

I wonder why those aren't being pursued?

One issue cropping up in BC is supplying power to the huge LNG facilities proposed for Kitimat and Prince Rupert on the northern coast. Some gas companies are willing to build a few gas-fired power plants for their own use. However, there is a chance the newly-elected Liberal government will offer great discounts on public hydro power, which means the Peace River will be dammed in a third location called Site C. A decade out will probably see about $9 billion spent, more scarce agricultural land inundated, industrial hydro price discounts much, much lower than domestic consumers enjoy, and no regard to the future price ceiling consumers and customers are willing to pay for NG as it diminishes.

Site C will probably be dedicated to the LNG export industry, so additional hydroelectricity for conversion of the Metro Vancouver fleet of private vehicles to EVs etc. will result in the damming of four river valleys, not three. Local residents will likely be grated by such an idea -- they think Vancouver already sucks the life out of the rest of the province!

For an informative perspective on NG in general, and shale gas in particular, notably on price surges expected in less than five years, a link to an interview with Bill Powers who analyzed this issue in his book Cold, Hungry and in the Dark is posted below. His work dovetails with Dave Hughes' recent report Drill Baby Drill that counters the industry hype about energy independence and questions the long-term supply prognostications about tight oil and shale gas.

And here is a perspective on BC's stated emission-reduction targets in the face of a developing huge LNG industry:

I think the answer to natural gas powered 'distance' vehicles is bifuel ie. CNG + expensive liquid. The expensive liquid could be petrol, diesel, eth/meth/but - anol. That gives time for CNG pumps to appear at service stations and some private homes. When your CNG/petrol car runs out of CNG on the interstate highway you get a 5 litre can of petrol to make it to the next CNG pump. That little lawnmower sized can could one day cost say $15 = 5 X $3/L so plan ahead next time.

These kinds of vehicles already exist. Google Opel Zafira CNG Tourer. EV enthusiasts must realise lots of people need SUVs and pickups/utes for their daily activities. In my case it is 40km to a full sized supermarket so I shop once a week, often bringing home some sawn timber or steel fenceposts. So far I get by on biodiesel which works if relatively few people are doing it. We back block people will need CNG.

That strategy continues to pump CO2 into the atmosphere.

Mother Nature isn't liking what we're doing....

A couple of solutions
1) generate baseload electricity with nukes not combined cycle gas. Some of that gas not used for stationary applications will be freed up for transport. Also don't export gas as LNG keep it at home for later.
2) consider the broader methane economy that includes natgas, biogas and synthetic which can all be blended.

Re synthetic methane google Audi e-gas or Power2Gas. If the C in CH4 comes from biocarbon that was already cycling above ground it shouldn't add to the atmospheric load.

Nukes are far too expensive, even before we consider the other problems they bring with them.

Renewables make cheaper electricity.

This depends on where you are. Much of the expense I think is ultimately a product of the regulatory environment where they are built (note the at least 30 year old strategy of antinuclear groups to increase the cost of building and operating these power plants - since before the construction of Seabrook - its been very effective, now a major talking point is that they are too expensive). Now it is relatively cheap to build them in China but not here. I've worked in nuclear plants and seen how ridiculous it can get, and the plant is still considered a cash cow by the operator. My own urine (and everyone else's), if I need to go on the hot side of plant operations, needed to be disposed of for $200 a pound as low level waste, when it was clearly non radioactive. Hot side drinking water needed a paperwork trail and was issued by a rad tech. No water is available in containment (inside the dome), where it may be 130F - that's ok though. The urine was disposed of at a facility in the Carolinas that I understand had now closed, so I have heard the cost is currently much, much higher. I have seen new cardboard boxes disposed of at the same cost, as low level waste. They were not radioactive either, and were just brought in to deliver needed material. I feel certain that China will not subject itself to such pointless waste. These costs are not due to resource use, they are due to political climate, ultimately. A low level dump is incredibly profitable to own when no other locations can get approval, and people are willing to pay for disposal of non radioactive common waste because they don't want to fight through the unwieldy paperwork that documents an item is harmless.

China is China. The rest of the world is not.

Places with strong central governments such as China, Russia, and North Korea may be able to build reactors cheaply because they can suppress any objections by their citizens. They can decide to take risks that wouldn't be undertaken in Europe or the US. They can simply decide to put nuclear wastes wherever they like and their citizens, having little power, simply have to live with that risk.

We don't live in China, Russia or North Korea. We have higher safety standards, realistic or not. And we allow our citizens to voice their opinion and insist on 'not in my back yard'. You might think things shouldn't be that way, that nuclear should be given a free rein, but not enough people agree with you to make it so.

Reality is, nuclear is too expensive to build in Europe and the US. The UK wanted to build new reactors, but asked for a guaranteed price. Not the sort of 'get a bid and then a bill 2x, 3x higher on completion' as the nuclear industry has done in the past.

The company that offers to build the new reactor will only do so if the selling price of all the electricity is guaranteed for the next 20 years. The UK has offered $0.124/kWh. The building won't accept that, says that they need a guaranteed $0.15/kWh.

That's the sort of turnkey bids we saw in Ontario (Canada), San Antonio and Turkey. When Turkey asked for fixed price bids the lowest they received was $0.21/kWh.

We don't live in China, Russia or North Korea. We have higher safety standards, realistic or not. And we allow our citizens to voice their opinion and insist on 'not in my back yard'.

I don't know where you live, but I live in the US, which has a government that in many things will do as it will regardless. Were the B-52s that used to fly overhead when I was young carrying live nuclear weapons? They would not say, it was likely though, considering the purpose of the bases they hailed from. There was no public choice allowed. As far as I know, there was little public say about Hanford, or Oak Ridge, or the nuclear shipyards etc.
The public largely lacks the education to independently assess nuclear risk, but is hand fed questionable data by groups that wish to sway opinion against nuclear power. Even still, there exists substantial support for nuclear power in the public.
Our government is split re nuclear power, it is in direct competition with some wealthy constituents. It was less split re nuclear arms. I believe this split is in part responsible for the burdensome and byzantine nature of nuclear regulation in the US which greatly increase construction time and cost, and in part for the success the anti nuclear movement (ie the anti nuclear movement is in part carrying out policy for our government). You can follow funding and links to vested energy interests of anti nuclear activist groups yourself at Undueinfluencedotcom (I do not share the politics of this site), note that the Joyce Foundation is big coal money.
My FIL died of chronic beryllium disease which turned to cancer. What he spent his career building for the US gov was classified, though it is not difficult to realize what he was working on. His worksite may have been next door to you and you would not have been aware of it. The point I'm trying to make here, however awkwardly, is that the voice of citizens, the NIMBY's etc have IMO been allowed to thwart civilian N-power here in the US, but have historically been denied a say, or even knowledge regarding the dark side of nuclear energy, the side I have moral concerns with.
edited to repair blockquote

We're building a couple of new reactors in the US right now. As far as I know there was no resistance by the public.

The owning utility has been overcharging their customers (with the state government's permission) for some time and using that "seized" money to offset the cost of building those reactors.

Construction started about a year ago. Last time I heard the project was about 10% over budget and a year behind schedule.

At the same time we are seeing existing, paid off reactors failing for financial reasons.

The Kewaunee, Wisconsin reactor shut down on May 7 of this year. (Last week.) The owners, Dominion Power, were losing money and could not find anyone to buy the reactor from them.

A few weeks earlier it was announced that Crystal River, Florida would be permanently closed. It had been down while repairs were contemplated. After looking at the repair cost the owners decided that they couldn't make money.

Oyster Creek, New Jersey is scheduled to close in 2010 as the cost of rebuilding the cooling tower makes it unprofitable.

James A FitzPatrick plant in Oswego, New York and Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon, Vermont are going to be operating at a financial loss for the foreseeable future. Pilgrim nuclear reactor in Plymouth, Massachusetts may also be losing money.

There is ongoing talk about not bringing the two San Onofre, California back on line. Due to repair costs.

About one fourth of our existing reactors are in danger of bankruptcy. Cheap wind and natural gas have taken away their profitability. Solar is reaching a price point which caps merit order pricing at a level that takes away a lot of nuclear's profitability.

The cost of power from a new reactor would be much higher than that of a paid off reactor. Capex and financing costs have to be added to the normal operating costs of a paid off reactor.

just a minute. If you are hot-side your pee needs special disposal. what happens when you go home? Do you need to cross your legs till the next day or pee in a bottle? Or is it all right to use the usual disposal facility which makes mockery of the hot side precautions?


When you leave any potentially hot area you will need to undergo a body scan - if anything is questioned you are hand scanned by staff. If you are hot, you won't leave until the contamination has been removed. You may lose your boots, your hard hat, you may be required to take a decontaminating shower. There will be paperwork, they will want to know where you may have picked up a bit of contamination. Internal urine has had no orportunity to become contaminated, so you are free to keep it. The reverse of what you said is close to reality - in hot areas there is no requirement I know of to have restrooms or porta potties available to the workers, and it is a major headache to cross from one side to the other just to use a bathroom, so if you have consumed too much liquid before your shift ,your worksite is where you will be crossing your legs.

We can turn power plants into power and fuel plants. Using waste heat and CO2 we can make synthetic fuels that are cleaner and use less imported oil.

This is nothing new, the Germans did it in the 1920s and Mobil did it on a large scale in the 1980s. Right now the $20 billion Shell Pearl facility is turning natural gas into liquid hydrocarbon fuels every day.

I would think that a truly sustainable synthetic methane cycle would need to pull CO2 from the atmosphere or seawater.

Seen any good cost data?

This is why we should sequester CO2 and build CO2 pipelines, we will need it to make the fuel in the future.

If you produce your hydrogen by electrolysis you have pure oxygen as co-product, then you burn your methane with this pure oxygen, you get only water and CO2.

Why not units that comprise large scale electrolysis, methane synthesis and NG power plant at the same site?

IIRC, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems estimates the hardware costs for the P2G process to be in the range of 7 cent/kWh, add a few cent for electricity, then you are at 10-12 cent/kWh. Expensive stuff.

G2L would double the price per kWh. Very expensive stuff.

Stationary plants can recycle their carbon, but if we're going to synthesize fuel for distributed or portable use, then we'll have to capture carbon from somewhere - seawater, perhaps.

So, does the $.07/kWh hardware cost for P2G include CO2 capture, or does it assume CO2 recycling?

And, yes, I agree - synthetic liquid fuel is likely to be expensive. On the other hand, I expect it to be used for only a small percentage of our current liquid fuel consumption, so cost wouldn't matter that much.

You can just tell when the NG fracking industry is in trouble when they start racketing up the reserve figures with no third party audits - as in my mind fracking has more to do with land banking finance (ponzi) than energy economics. Also whatever happened in peak oil circles to Net Energy concerns.. sure efficiency might be increasing (lets ignore Jevons Paradox on resource demand), but when you need more unconventional oil/gas to be produced for your energy buck to compensate for energy required to produce it in the first place - not exactly a level playing field.

Noticing in the media, especially google, to try to NLP the idea that peak oil is morphing from production to economic demand - might work for a year or two, so the land banking scams/ponzi schemes can continue...

But let me assume for a minute that these peak oil demand models were 100% correct, and yes oil demand did peak, and we are move to NG / renewable power - it is a fact that most of the economically sound 'cheap' NG is coming from tight oil as by-product with rising costs (producers themselves don't give a monkeys about net energy - all they see is cost and return).. so if demand for oil and tight oil does peak, than right now that means a peak in cheap affordable Gas too... ?

In converting to natural gas, the big trucks are clearly the place to start. Not only do they do six times the mileage of the average car, they only get 5-10 mpg, so converting one truck to ng is like converting about 20 cars.

From Alternative Fuels Data Center

Note also that the newest vehicles do the biggest mileage, so savings ripple through the fleet quite quickly.

I think you hit the nail on the head there. Maybe this would become clearer if total miles travelled per vehicle type was included.

My personal opinion is that no one is actually serious about reducing energy consumption, efficiency or anything else except status and money. Otherwise they would all be riding bikes or walking instead of commuting in a prius. Driving to work in a prius, now that is a statement! It means I have enough money to be serious about saving the planet. Whereas riding a bike to work is about as anathema as using a clothes-line.