Environment

Sunday Train: The Two Transitions to A Renewable Electricity Supply

The topic for this week's Sunday Train was brought to my mind when I listened to the Energy Gang podcast. They were discussing the question of whether "CSP (that is, concentrated thermal solar power) is dead", and the always entertaining, but not uniformly informative, "energy futurist" Jigar Shah declared that "CSP is dead" (segment starts 30:29), backing the claim up with a set of bullet points that fell far short of supporting the claim. And listening to the set of bullet points, it seemed to me that he was talking in the context of the phase of the transition to renewable energy that we are presently in, and ignoring the phase of the transition that we will have to pass through if we are to survive as a national economy and national economy.

In short, he seemed to be talking more as an energy presentist than an energy futurist, claiming that there was no plausible position for solar CSP power based on both the technology currently rolled out for a technology that is experiencing rapid development, and in the context of renewable energy being added to an energy system which is untenable over the long term.

But I do not mean to single out Jigar Shah, since as I have recently been exploring various discussion spaces talking about various issues in the roll-out of renewable energy, cross-talk between the different phases of the transition to renewable energy seems to be commonplace. So what I wish to write about this Sunday afternoon is the "Two Transitions" to renewable energy: the Current Transition and the Next Transition.

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Sunday Train: The Era of Reverse Pumped Hydro

In a sense, Sunday Train has been mentioning reverse pumped hydro before the Sunday Train actually existed. In 2007 at Daily Kos, in "Driving Ohio on Lake Erie" (reprinted in 2012 at Burning the Midnight Oil), reverse pumped hydro was mentioned as one technology for smoothing the variability of Lake Erie offshore wind. In 2008 on Docudharma, talking about what we could do if we pursued serious goals, as opposed to "predicting" what "they" are "likely to do", I mentioned it again. I mention it again in The Myth of Baseload Power. And it features in the description of where Biocoal would fit into among dispatchable renewable energy in Unleashing the Political Power of Biocoal.

But one thing that Sunday Train has not done is to give a closer look at the current state of play of reverse pumped hydro in the United State, what are the regulatory obstacles that stand in the way of greater development of reverse pumped hydro, and what can be done to sidestep or overcome those regulatory obstacles. Evidently, I must have been saving all of that for today, for placement below the fold.

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IMF Leading the Way on Climate Change

Fantastic news. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), that benevolent lender of money to the downtrodden and disrespected, is leading the charge in fighting climate change.

Believe me, this news combined with the Pentagon and Military Industrial Complex's plans to lead the way against war, imperialism and militarism should be taken as a sign of optimism for us all.

"For the first time, the IMF laid out exactly what it views as appropriate taxes on coal, natural gas, gasoline and diesel in 156 countries to factor in the fuels' overall costs, which include carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution, congestion and traffic accidents.

I won't bother with the details, it's all in a new IMF book. This book should be in every environmentalist's back pocket as they spread the good news to the happy people.

We should all be grateful that our leaders are so intent on protecting us and our beloved planet.

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Sunday Train: Fast and Slow Transit Should be Friends

As noted this week at The Overhead Wire:

There has been a lot of chatter recently on the issue of fast vs slow transit. This week is the perfect time for this discussion as two major United States transit projects of differing stripes opened up; the Metro Silver Line in Washington DC and the Tucson Streetcar.

On the one hand you have neoliberal Matthew Yglesias as the neoliberal "let us explain to you why There Are No Alternatives (TINA)" site Vox saying:

Without a dedicated lane, a streetcar can't really run much faster than a bus under ideal conditions. And since unlike a bus, a streetcar can't shift out of its lane to avoid an obstacle, in real-world circumstances it's likely to move slower than a bus. There are some objectives related to real estate development and tourism that this kind of project can serve, but they're nearly useless in terms of transportation.

And on the other hand you have the piece by Robert Steuteville at Better Cities and Towns, Place Mobility: Sometimes good transportation is slow, which observes:

The Portland streetcar has been a catalyst for $4 billion-plus investment and up to 10,000 housing units in the Pearl District and other neighborhoods close to downtown. All of these people and businesses have Place Mobility. They use the streetcar for quick trips and to make connections — it doesn't matter that it moves very slowly because they don't have to go far. But the new people and businesses in the Pearl and downtown are not the only beneficiaries. All of the existing businesses and residences also benefit from rising Place Mobility.

When a streetcar -- or other catalyst -- creates a compact, dynamic place, other kinds of mobility become possible. The densest concentrations of bike-share and car-share stations in Portland are located in the area served by the streetcar. That's no coincidence. You can literally get anywhere without a car.

Of course, much of the "debate" falls into the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy, as if there is a choice between either having slow transit or having fast transit, when the reality is that we not only need both, but that improving either one improves the utility of the other.

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Sunday Train: HSR from Houston to Dallas one step closer to reality

The Texas Department of Transport and Federal Railway Authority announced in June that they were beginning an Environmental Impact Study for the proposed private Texas Central Railways (TCR) High Speed Rail corridor between Houston and Dallas.

This is a private venture that is proposing to using the "Japan Rail Central" N700-I system, an internationalized version of the 186mph HSR train running between Tokyo and Osaka. TCR proposal is not only for the trains to be operated on farebox revenue, but for the corridor to be built with private funds. As the FRA announcement states:

TCR is a Texas-based company formed in 2009 to bring HSR to Texas as a private-sector venture. Working closely with Central Japan Railway Company (JRC), TCR is proposing the deployment of JRC’s N700-I Bullet System based on the world’s safest, most reliable, lowest emission, electric-powered, HSR systems, the Tokaido Shinkansen System. Developed and operated by JRC and the former Japan National Railways, the Tokaido Shinkansen has operated safely for almost 50 years and carries over 400,000 daily passengers. The most current generation Shinkansen train, the Series N700, runs at speeds up to 186 miles per hour.

Being a private venture, the EIS process will give us our first public look at corridor alternatives that TRC is considering, as well as the first opportunity for formal public comment.

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Sunday Train: What Future for America's Deadly Cul-de-Sacs?

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 triggered the Depression that we appear to be exiting this summer. And it was triggered by the collapse of the Great Turn of the Century Suburban Housing Bubble.

In coming out of the recent Depression, one driver of residential property values, the Cul de Sac, seems to be in conflict with a new driver: walkability. In October 2013, the Realtor(R) Magazine Online, of the National Association of Realtors, wrote, in Neighborhoods: More Walkable, More Desirable that:

Neighborhoods that boast greater walkability tend to have higher resale values in both residential and commercial properties, finds a recent study published in Real Estate Economics. In fact, a 2009 report by CEOs for Cities found that just a one-point increase in a city’s walk score could potentially increase homes’ values by $700 to $3,000.

And Ken Harney, writing for NewHomeSource.com, observes in that:

The core concept — connecting people with where they want to work, play and own a home by creating attractive neighborhood environments that make maximum use of existing transit infrastructure — fits many post-recession households’ needs, regardless of age. Older owners of suburban homes are downsizing into townhouses and condo units close to or in the central city, often in locations near transit lines. Younger buyers, fed up with long commutes to work, want to move to places where they can jump onto mass transit and get off the road.

Many of these buyers also have an eye on economics. For example, Bill Locke, a federal contracts consultant in northern Virginia, said that although owning a LEED-certified townhome near a Metro transit stop “is a really big deal” for himself and his wife, he sees the unit they recently purchased in the Old Town Commons development in Alexandria, Va., as a long-term investment that will grow in value “because it makes so much more sense” than competing, traditional subdivisions farther out from the city.

So, what does this mean for the sustainable transport and for the future of the deadly American Suburban Cul de Sac? Let's have a chat about it, below the fold.

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Sunday Train: Crutches vs Splints for the Highway Fund's Broken Leg

There was a gleam of hope this week for state officials faced with the prospects of having to start delaying projects and lay off people working on maintenance and new construction funded from the Federal Highway Fund: Bloomberg:

Lawmakers’ fight over how to fund roads and transit probably will end with legislation from the Republican-led House sent to President Barack Obama, leadership aides in both parties said.

House and Senate leaders have been collaborating on a strategy for preventing the Highway Trust Fund from running dry at the height of the summer road-construction season. While bills approved July 10 by committees in both chambers are similar, the Democratic-led Senate’s version contains tax proposals seen as obstacles in the House.

But this is akin to lending someone with a broken leg crutches and hoping that it will heal on its own. For some fractures, that might work, but most would require a splint at least, and for serious fractures, you need to set the leg and put it in a cast of some sort.

In the case at hand, the long term broken funding model that lays behind the Highway Funding crisis is something that requires something better than a temporary loan of crutches.

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