Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Land Ferries

I was Victoria, British Columbia recently visiting my brother. One thing about going to Victoria, you quickly get introduced to the BC Ferry system.

What I find most amazing is how quickly the ships can load up a shipful of cars, trucks, busses, and pedestrians and sail off to the other shore. Onboard, drivers and passengers can dine, sight see, lounge, read, etc.

I started thinking, why can't we have that on land? A ferry between major cities on land. Similar to the Auto-train, a land ferry would be rail based. It should be completely loadable in 5 to 10 minutes. If it were double decked, you could load both decks at once. Drivers could get out of their cars, and walk to lounge or dining cars located at strategic points on the trains. With existing technology, point to point land ferries should be able to achieve comparable times to driving the same distance.

Longer term solutions could achieve higher speeds, provide charging stations for electric cars, and improved enroute amenities. Through trains could take travelers coast to coast, with the advantage of having personal transportation available at your destination. A variation of the ferry could provide a rolling campground, for travel trailers, motor homes, and boats.

The key to making such a proposal a success may be the technology and infrastructure to allow rapid loading and unloading. A robotic automatic loader could load an entire train simultaneously, two levels at a time. Other alternatives might just let you drive aboard like you would on the sea-going ferries mentioned earlier.

Feasible? Yes. Practical? Maybe. Marketable? Yes, at the right price point.

No Silver Bullet?

Is there a Silver Bullet to solve the energy and global warming crisis? Not yet, but maybe some day. Sustainable Hydrogen Fusion might be, but it has remained elusive for decades now.

For now, and until this or some other Silver Bullet solution comes along, we need a comprehensive menu of solutions to address 4 issues:

1. Global warming and pollution as a result of burning carbon fuels
2. Financial impact of being a net importer of fuel resources
3. Exponential growth in energy demand
4. The reality of legacy investments in planes, trains, trucks, and automobiles

I admire Al Gore and T. Boone Pickens challenges and plans. We should work to implement both, as they are not contradictory. But there is much more that will have to be dones as well. I believe both of the proponents of change believe that too. In the recent book, "Earth: The Sequel", authors Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn outline many technologies which can contribute to addressing the four issues I outline above. This book should be required reading for everyone who is in a position to influence our leaders.

All efforts to change the status quo are expensive, but perhaps the most expensive of all in this case is to just try and maintain it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on Al Gore's challenge proposal

Last week I commented on Al Gore's renewable energy challenge. As I listen to the various political nay-sayers describe how unachieveable the idea is, I realize how much they don't get it.

The importance of a national priority challenge is to find a way to get it done!

Nay-sayers say that it would take 10 years are more to just 'agree' to get it done, and clear legal hurdles. Indeed, that is the most critical part of the challenge.

The challenge to 'walk on the moon by the end of the decade' was largely a technical challenge. It was achieved through technical innovation at a rate that would not have been achieved without the goal having been set.

The challenge to achieve 'all electricity through renewable energy' within 10 years is more legal and political. The technical capability largely exists. The innovation required by the challenge is different, but the mandate needs to be the same. Find a way to get it done, and it isn't by continuing 'business as usual'.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On opening the continental shelf to exploration and development

The views on this one are mainly Republicans = Yes, Democrats = No. Here, I side with the Republicans. Here are some common arguments and my response.

"It will be 10 years before we get the first drop of oil from it"

Jim: Even if it is 10 years, which it probably won't be, it's from when we begin, so let's get started.

"We should drill where there are already leases"

Jim: Geologically, there are places where oil is commonly found, and there other places. Some of the best prospects are not in the current lease areas.

"It could foster an environmental disaster"

Jim: So could the Chinese drilling off the coast of Cuba. We need to be environmentally responsible, use the latest technology, and ensure some funds are diverted directly to National Parks and other environmental budgets.

"We'll end up selling the oil to the Chinese"

Jim: We should have that problem.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why not trains

I had the occasion to visit the museum in the old train station in West Yellowstone, Montana a few weeks ago while on vacation. There used to be trains there, bringing early visitors to Yellowstone National Park. Now, no trains. Why?

Trains are the most efficient form of long distance transportation. In preparing for my vacation, I looked into the train alternative as time wasn't much of an issue. I quickly realized trains are a more expensive alternative than airplanes, if you can even get there from here. Why is that, and why is it so? Trains are the most enery efficient form of long distance transportation, so why does it have to cost so much?

Maybe it's a chicken and egg thing. If there were passengers to fill them would there be more trains. If there were more routes, and prices were cheaper, maybe there would be more passengers. If trains were half as fast as airplanes, maybe there would be more passengers.

Maybe we need some high speed trains between major metropolitan areas, with local hubs to more places. Europe has that, Japan has that, why doesn't the US have that? If I could get on a train and go from Dallas to Los Angeles in 12 hours or less, I would probably never fly again unless going over the ocean.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore's Proposal

Yesterday, in a major energy speech, Al Gore called for a national goal to generate 100% of our electricity from renewable sources within 10 years. He likened the goal to John Kennedy's goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade (60s).

I am delighted to hear the call, and urge all of my friends to support this worthy goal. It is time for decisive action!This isn't just an environmental goal. As Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, and others have pointed out, we are bankrupting our country with the outflow of cash for foreign oil.

I do disagree with Mr. Gore on one important point. I believe we should still open our continental shelf for oil exploration. It's not that it can solve our current energy crisis, it's just that there are a lot of things to do with oil besides burn it in cars and trucks.

I also support Sen, McCain's call for additional Nuclear Energy, more as an alternative for steady state electrical power generation.I have previously called for additional investing in rail alternatives, such as high speed electric trains, as alternatives to air travel, which at least for the short term will continue to be powered by fossil fuels.

I plan to buy an electric car when available. Until then I'll have to limit the driving of my gas guzzeling SUV, and probably will never by the class A RV which I have often thought I wanted when I retired.