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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alternative Energy Missing Link



The big gap in the alternative energy mix has always been transportation. Fossil fuels have a huge amount of energy in a concentrated package. Electric vehicles have a lot of advantages, from reliability to environmental impact, but range has been limited. Electric energy storage has been unable to compete with fossil fuels.

That's been changing. Batteries have gotten better, thanks in no small part the efforts of Elon Musk and the Tesla cars. Still, while batteries have gotten better and costs have come down, fossil fuels still pack a lot more punch per pound.

Everyone knows about the Tesla cars, but there's been some quiet innovation going on under the radar. This Norwegian ferry is one good example. The ferry was built to be electric from the ground up. It's doing the job that diesels used to do while using electricity generated by 100% hydro power. Not only is it a cleaner running boat, it's a better boat overall.

There are a lot of places where even short haul electric vehicles can make a huge difference. There are fully electric buses operating all over the world. If you've ever been stuck in traffic behind a diesel bus you'd feel they can't go electric soon enough. City buses make short low speed trips so electric just makes sense.

There are large trucks being used for short haul trips. They are attractive to fleet operators who don't even care about pollution. Operating costs can be lower as electric vehicles require less maintenance and can be more reliable.

Right now the big hurtle is long distance trucking. There the limitations of electric battery storage really rears its ugly head. Short trip city vehicles can boost the charge of their batteries at their frequent stops. Since they have to stop anyway, little time is lost getting a booster charge. Electric charging stations every 50 miles down the highway are just impractical -expensive and time consuming.

So if fossil fuels become high priced and scarce we are doomed to lose cross country transportation? Maybe, but it doesn't have to be that way. At one time different regions of the country produced a lot more of their local needs. There's no reason that model can't be employed again. Maybe we'll get our salads from a local green house in the winter instead of shipping it 2000 miles across the country.

Trains and boats are much more efficient than tractor trailer trucks and could handle regional shipping. Local distribution could then be handled by electric vehicles using renewable energy sources. The distribution system could completely change and the average person wouldn't even know the difference. As it is most people have no idea how that can of beans makes it to the shelf of the local store. What does it matter to the shopper if the beans got there by diesel truck or by sailboat and short haul electric van?

So is this just some pipe dream of mine? It doesn't have to be. Economics and technological developments are already pushing us towards that model. The big question is if the change over will happen fast enough to prevent the complete crash of the transportation system.

Bets anyone?

-Sixbears

8 comments:

  1. I tend to agree with you, Sixbears. Folks have no ideas the amount of goods that we depend on for everyday sustenance is delivered by truck. That's why we in the Gulf Coast are warned to stock up during hurricane season - most stores, even big box, have no more than 3 days worth in their immediate warehouse or location.
    I dream of a time when no one lives more than 10 miles from his place of employment, but that would mean that I would have to move across town, out of the forest, or the forest and golf courses would be invaded by highrises and corporations. Telecommuting sounds good to me for more folks, but rather difficult for a corporate receptionist ...

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    1. I gave up a 20 minute walk to work for a 20 minute drive, but got to move to a lake. Worth it.

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  2. Pakistan runs all its busses and trucks and tons of cars on natural gas for 25 years.Yes 25 years.They have no natural gas import all.Hello the Saudi own all politicians. They are evil . Nothing will change.You can have the finest environmental and energy cars etc.When the politicians are owned by the House of Saudi nothing happens.Iran, Iraq, and Libya were ok until Saudi controls all.

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    1. We took a big step backwards when we did away with our trolley systems. My grandparents could go to work, and do all their errands using a cheap transportation system that went everywhere.

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    2. my husband, a great trolley and train fan, told me it was henry ford convinced t. roosevelt that cars would be better for the country. result; death of trolley transport.

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    3. It's a dirty shame -and maybe even a crime.

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  3. Like you said its really being able to get alternatives up to scale. I favor an electric train network then yard to warehouse / stores with electric truck. We have a lot of growth available in solar and micro hydro power generation in the country.

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    1. If solar can grow in leaps in bounds in cold cloudy NH, there aren't a lot of places where it won't make sense.

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