Sunday, September 2, 2012

Building an Energy Strategy, Ideas 1 & 2


1) Build A National Smart Energy Grid – 

 Our energy grid is the equivalent of a combination of dirt roads and canals when what we need is a super-highway system. We need to get energy where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. At the moment, whatever energy is produced is pushed through the pipes whether it is needed or not. This worked brilliantly well in the 1920s until today, but it is hard to believe that we can not find a way to do it better. We can save up to 20 percent on the cost of electricity by doing so and prevent blackouts.

Make no mistake. This is not going to be easy. Or cheap. But it will pay for itself in the long run as the amount we spend on energy will be a fraction of what we do today. There is a giant problem though. The technology is not quite there yet. The big piece of this puzzle is how do we store energy when it is not being used. In other words, how do we build enough batteries that are big enough and cheap enough that can power whole cities without bankrupting us in the process? In 5 years, they will be. 

Five years in the industry standard for futuristic technologies. It's short enough away that you will stay interested, but far enough away that you do not expect it on your doorstep anytime soon.  

There is also a problem that electricity is becoming so cheap that the projected benefits may not accrue. Wasting energy may be economically inefficient in 5 years even if it is not environmentally so.

2) Promote train and bus usage by increasing reliability- 

It comes down to reliability. If I don't know when the next bus or train is coming, then I am not going to take it. If service is not reliable - even at strange hours - then I am not going to rely on it for my transit. I will (like others) drive instead. To resolve these problems: the smartphone apps go a long way in this regard to inform riders of when the next vehicle is coming, but that in itself is not enough.

I have friends in the Dallas area who talk about using the new Denton-Dallas train line. Yes, Texas just discovered public transit. Their hesitancy comes from the fact that they are unsure when they are going to make the return trip. If the train stops running at 10pm, then it does not do them any good if they want to come back at 11 or 12. See the problem? 

I could not be happier with public transit at the moment. I know that if I walk 5 minutes out the door, a streetcar or bus will be there shortly. I don't have to carefully check an app or schedule to know when the next one is coming. I have confidence that one will be there in less than 10 minutes. Usually if I have to wait anywhere near that long, then I start to get antsy. Though no matter how antsy I might get, it is significantly less than the stress I feel sitting in traffic. That can take years off of your life.

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