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Mileage from megawatts: Study finds enough electric capacity to “fill up” plug-in vehicles across much of the nation

The Auto Channel
If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. A new study for the Department of Energy finds that “off-peak” electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84 percent of the country’s 220 million vehicles if they were plug-in hybrid electrics.

Researchers at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also evaluated the impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, on foreign oil imports, the environment, electric utilities and the consumer.

“This is the first review of what the impacts would be of very high market penetrations of PHEVs, said Eric Lightner, of DOE’s Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability. “It’s important to have this baseline knowledge as consumers are looking for more efficient vehicles, automakers are evaluating the market for PHEVs and battery manufacturers are working to improve battery life and performance.”

…Adding “smart grid” communications technology to ensure the vehicles only charge during off-peak periods and to provide immediate, remote disconnect of chargers in event of problems in the power grid would make them attractive to utilities.
(11 Dec 2006)
A promising study if we assume that increasing electricity use is desirable -AF

Why We Drive

Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
(Or, why mass transit and land-use changes probably won’t help our problems very much).
…There are a variety of answers out there: more efficient cars, better land-use planning, more mass-transit, consuming less, switching to alternative forms of energy to name a few.

Recently, for reasons that will become clearer in future posts, I’ve been trying to come up to speed on transportation issues. I’m tentatively coming to some conclusions that I know a lot of people on this site aren’t going to like. I thought I’d start putting them out there and see what holes in my argument folks can find.

Specifically, it seems to me that neither changes in land-use, nor changes in transportation infrastructure (transit etc), are terribly promising as approaches to the terrible trio.

…So in short, transit is quite simply never going to work to reduce auto VMT significantly at any reasonable cost in the present pattern of US urban development.

Ok. But we should start fixing all this, right? It may have been that American sprawl is “the most destructive development pattern the world has ever seen, and perhaps the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known” in Kunstler’s memorable phrase, but we can fix it, no? We can promote Transit Oriented Development, and all will get better?

Only very slowly. The core problem here is the longevity of the housing stock.

…Finally, let me close with one last graph, which I finally tracked down: what are we all doing out there on the roads?

As you can see, the largest share of miles go in commuting, but social and recreational mileage is very close behind. Miles on personal errands and shopping are also significant contributions. So we would need to attack several of these categories to have much of an effect on vehicle miles traveled
(13 Dec 2006)

The Pernicious Price of Petroleum

John Gartner, Wired
Our love of driving is killing us. While we think of car crashes as causing fatalities, the production and transportation of fuel also significantly undermines public health.

In his book Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, Terry Tamminen outlines the direct and indirect impact that petroleum consumption has on millions of Americans every year.

Tamminen, a former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, spoke with Wired News about how we got into this mess, who is to blame, and his state’s current efforts to hold energy providers and the auto industry responsible for their environmental impact.

…WN: You pin most of the blame on the auto and oil companies for polluting our skies, but aren’t we free to choose our vehicles and how we use them?

Tamminen: We are not blameless as we do … drive cars when we could walk or take a bike. But consumers haven’t really had a choice because they didn’t have accurate information about the health risks. Much like the tobacco industry responded to pressure from regulators about the dangers of smoking by forming the Tobacco Institute, the automobile industry formed an alliance to study the health impact of their products, but it was really an organization created to produce bogus studies and conspire to hide the truth.

The auto industry worked to stall the science that could reduce pollution by saying that it was too expensive or technically impossible. This delayed the introduction of catalytic converters and the removal of leaded gasoline and has kept the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards from changing. Today we continue to overpay in “lives per gallon” because the auto industry pushes high octane gasoline which requires more energy to produce but provides no benefit to most of the vehicles on the road.

Consumer choice has been reduced by companies including General Motors, Standard Oil (which later became ExxonMobil) and Firestone Tires, which conspired to eliminate the clean electric trains that were being used for mass transit around the country. During the 1940s and 1950s, these companies created the National City Lines, a shell company that bought up the local clean electric transit systems and tore up the tracks so that no one else could ever use them. The companies replaced the trains with dirty diesel buses and encouraged people to buy cars. The group was eventually found guilty in federal court for anti-trust violations, but it was too late to do anything about it.
(13 Dec 2006)
Hat tip to Big Gav, long-time EB ally and supplier of many article ideas.

Distance-Based Auto Insurance: a Tool for our Times

Carl Henn, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS)
Distance-Based Auto Insurance is an idea whose time has come. Also known as Per-Mile Auto insurance, Mile-Based Car insurance, Per-Mile premiums, or Pay-as-you-drive insurance, the plan proposes to convert a large fixed cost of auto ownership into a variable cost of automobile use. Large fixed costs and low marginal costs create an incentive to drive more. If insurance costs the same whether 10,000 miles are driven or 20,000, then that insurance costs half as much per mile if one drives the 20,000 miles. On the other hand, high variable costs provide a financial incentive to reduce total miles driven.

…For years per mile insurance was just an idea in waiting. Then in 2002, Texas passed a law authorizing this form of insurance. Embarrassed by the notion that Texas could now claim to be a more progressive state, Oregon passed its own version, titled Pay as you drive or PAYD, in 2003. Both these laws allow rather than require distance-based insurance. At least one company is now offering per mile insurance, though it is limited to cars that have GPS.

Requiring that insurance be charged by the mile would face stiff resistance from those who currently enjoy subsidy under the current system, as well as from those resistant to having their odometer checked. But merely allowing the option for people to purchase per mile insurance should be a much easier sell. Over time, the free choice model could result in substantial improvement.
(12 July 2004)
Related article in Harpers: Insurance by the Mile: A simple way to slow global warming.
Contributor Carl Henn writes:

In our current car insurance set up, those who don’t drive much subsidize those who drive a lot. Per Mile insurance would end this subsidy and result in less driving.

Ethical travel – Monbiot interview
Ana Maria Tramonte, CBC Radio
The Current: Part 3

We have a confession to make here at The Current. We may be responsible for your eternal damnation. This season, we’ve been looking at the places in the world that you really should try to see before climate change mutates them forever … places such as the Canadian Arctic, Mount Kilimanjaro, Venice and the low-lying islands of the South Pacific.

The trouble is, the easiest way to get to these places is to fly. And now, both the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury say that flying to your vacation is a sin. They say this because of the millions of tonnes of fuel that airplanes burn and the greenhouse gases they spew into the atmosphere. In our quest to highlight the damage being caused by global warming … we may be encouraging behaviour that makes the problem worse.

So we wanted to see if there is some way we can work ourselves out of this Catch-22. And we began with George Monbiot. He’s a columnist with the Guardian newspaper, a visiting professor of planning at Oxford Brookes University and one of the world’s most outspoken environmentalists. He was in Oxford, England.

George Monbiot is the author of Heat: How to Stop the World from Burning.

(13 Dec 2006)
Contributor Tony writes:

Great interview with George Monbiot on our moral duty to drastically cut back on airplane travel. I’m glad the show’s host publically questioned the preposterous premise of her recent series on “places around the world you should see before global warming destroys them”.

Richard Branson chats about embracing ethanol and slashing airplane emissions

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist
Does a music mogul who signed the Rolling Stones and Janet Jackson have what it takes to make a pop star out of biofuels?

Earlier this fall, publicity-chasing British entrepreneur Richard Branson made a $3 billion bet that he could do just that — and help solve the climate crisis to boot — via Virgin Fuels, a new company in his wide-ranging Virgin Group.

…This week, as part of an effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions at his Virgin Atlantic airline, he announced a trial plan to tow planes from airport gates to runways so they won’t have to burn fuel while they wait to take off.

Branson spoke with me from his private island in the Caribbean.

…Q: Do you think fuel prices will — and should — stay high, whether because of government taxes or market forces?

Branson: I pray that fuel prices stay high. For an airline owner, it’s a disastrous statement to make, of course — high fuel prices have cost the Virgin Group about a billion dollars a year in increased costs because of our trains and planes. But without high fuel prices, I don’t believe people will be stirred into action to address the climate and energy crises.

…Q: Airlines in Europe are coming under increasing pressure to curb their greenhouse gases. Do you support some type of a carbon tax for airlines?

Branson: Yeah. Anything like that that cuts down greenhouse gases I support.

For instance, do we really need airplanes on short-haul routes where people could be traveling by train? Personally, I think the answer is no. If we’ve got an adequate train service, people should be going by train, which produces about eight times less CO2 than planes.
(7 Dec 2006)