Saturday, February 14, 2009

Could someone explain this to me...?

Who was rooting for FutureGen funding to be included in the stimulus bill (okay, it's not FutureGen per say, its just $1 billion for an unnamed "zero-emission coal plant)?

Environmentalists generally feel that clean coal technology is unproven and that it cannot provide either a fast reduction in carbon output or a reduction in the overall environmental impact (as coal mining is still environmentally harmful).

Economists would balk at the project's cost ($1 billion for a reduction of one million tons per year) and its unclear economic benefits ($1 billion dollars in other sectors would likely have a larger impact on employment).

Coal miners/people who dependend on coal for their electricity also have no reason to support funding "clean coal." Why not simply lobby for more "non-clean" coal plants? If you are a coal company, why are you concerned about global warming? And if you are, wouldn't it be easier just to invest in clean technologies?

And conservatives/libertarians are generally not in favor of the heavy-handed command-and-control approach to pollution reduction that subsidies represent. After all, the government is generally unable to do cost-benefit analysis (and the high price of Futuregen makes it one of the poorer ways of reducing carbon emissions), and this is a transparent interference in the "free market."

Again, who is this pork for?

Embodied Energy... (or Why Rail is Overrated)

Is BART green?

This study (click here) seems to suggest that the correct answer is no. The reason is that they posit that BART's huge construction costs imply a large amount of energy usage, which is so large that BART's energy savings per trip cannot "pay back" the initial energy used up front.

I'm conflicted, because I think the author ignores the fact that the ratio of $/energy will not be the same for all urban transit systems. BART is a particularly obvious outlier, because it cost far more than similar systems owing to its proprietary track width (every other system uses "standard gauge.") For this reason, BART's cost might be a testament to the cost of designing a system that SHARED NO COMPONENTS with any other transit system rather than being an indictment of BART's construction energy usage. Also, BART is a government project, so much of that money spent will not go to energy-using activities like powering generators but will instead be embezzeled or lost (which throws off the paper's calculations even more). But the study is still an interesting read, and I am interested in seeing more life-cycle analysis of transit which consider transportation usage. Perhaps people should be talking about buses more, as even the study I cited (which is by an anti-transit author) suggests that bus transit saves energy when compared to car-based transit. We might want to consider adopting San Francisco's system of buses powered by overhead cables, which would give bus transit the benefit of lower carbon content as well. The problem seems to be that buses have a stigma in Western society, a stigma that trains do not have. From my own (relatively limited) experience, trains are often filled with commuters who own cars, while buses are generally frequented only by die-hard greenies and people who do not own cars. So I suppose my second question is: should urban transit advocates focus on getting people on buses (which may be greener/cheaper than rail in the long run)?

P.S: This article (click here) explains why none of this means you shouldn't take BART (read "Yes, you should still take Public Transit").

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Interesting News...

Oil consumption is set to decline to 2003 levels this year. This is generally considered to be caused by "involuntary conservation," as people buy less things and drive less (because they have less money, obviously). The second article I linked to did a good job of describing the levels of economic pain we are currently seeing (sales are down 5%!!), and much of that decline is seen in the automobile (the primary petroleum-consuming device in the United States). It also shows how inelastic oil demand is, as an economic downturn that has hit the entire world has only moved the dates of what I described early by five years, as well as the link between oil and economic development (while causality does not prove causation, I think it is fair to say that oil is fundamental to growth in the world' current economic system, so a drop off in economic activity will similarly lead to a drop off in oil consumption). This news points to the most powerful tool that society will use to combat a sharp unplanned drop in oil consumption once a peak is reached: a sharp drop off in economic growth as well.,0,6190270,full.story