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Sunday Train: Hobbling & Liberating Renewables with Markets

A concept that has been percolating into debates over the feasibility or desirability of moving to an all-renewables, no/low carbon energy supply system is the ceiling on what percentage share of our total energy supply we can take from variable renewables. At The Energy Collective, in the second of a two part May 2015 series on Wind and Solar energy, Jesse Jenkins looked at the question of Is There An Upper Limit To Variable Renewables?. Now, as the Sunday Train has covered many times, there is an upper limit, and so an all-renewable no/low carbon energy system requires dispatchable renewables as well as variable renewables ... and all cost-optimizing models of all-renewable energy systems that I have seen confirm this.

However, Jesse Jenkins proceeded to mis-characterize the policy question at hand, when he wrote:

First, as a growing body of scholarship concludes, the marginal value of variable renewable energy to the grid declines as the penetration rises.

Indeed, where renewable energy earns its keep in the energy market — and is not supported outside the market by feed-in tariffs — the revenues wind or solar earn in electricity markets decline steadily as their market share grows.

Well, not so fast. There is a fundamental flaw in the assumptions behind this claim. It turns out that kind of market situations that allow market prices to measure a resource's "ability to earn its keep" quite clearly exclude this particular situation he is talking about.

So it makes a difference how markets are put together, which is what this week's Sunday Train takes a look at. Read more about Sunday Train: Hobbling & Liberating Renewables with Markets

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Sunday Train: Can Nuclear and Renewable Energy Be Friends?

There is an ongoing general discussion in the field of sustainable energy that does not carry the risk of the destruction of our current industrial society and economy about variable renewable energy.

Renewable energy includes a range of low or no carbon sources of energy - but not all renewable energy is sustainable, and not all is low or no carbon. And not all low or no carbon energy sources are from renewable energy resources.

Among the sustainable, no/low carbon renewable energy resources, the most abundant involve the harvest of variable renewable energy, with windpower and solar PV being the most notable. So one obvious strategy for a no-carbon-emitting energy system is to base it on collecting as much of these affordable variable renewables as practicable, and then use other no/low carbon sources to fill in the gaps.

However, in some quarters, this elicits a counter-argument. The most "successfully de-carbonized" economies of the world today are either those with a very high reliance on reservoir hydropower ... which while very useful in the United States offers nowhere near a large enough economic resource to meet any large fraction of our current consumption ... or those with a very high reliance on nuclear power.

Indeed, near the beginning of this month, Stephen Lacy briefly reported on a report from the Breakthrough Institute that raised an alarm that the new Clean Power Plan may in fact oversee a net increase in GHG emissions. The final plan does not include measures to avoid the decommissioning of substantial numbers of nuclear power plants. And the numbers are stark:

  • The 30 nuclear plants at risk by 2030 avoid over 100 MMT of CO2 emissions
  • New non-hydropower renewables are expected to avoid 60 MMT of CO2 emissions by 2030
  • New nuclear plants under construction are expected to avoid under 30 MMT of CO2 by 2030

So where retention of those 30 nuclear power plants would find us over 80 MMT of avoided CO2 ahead, and in a position to accelerate that in the following decade ... their closure could leave us over 10 MMT below where we are now. Read more about Sunday Train: Can Nuclear and Renewable Energy Be Friends?

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Sunday Train: Cuomo Backs the Worst Air Train to LaGuardia

Back in January, Yonah Freemark covered the news that Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a genuine clunk of an Air Train to La Guardia airport. The proposal was, as Yonah Freemark put it, "an AirTrain that will save almost no one any time."

Yonah Freemark was not the only transit blogger to give this proposal the thumbs down. Benjamin Kabak writing at 2nd Avenue Sagas pointed out in On the flawed LaGuardia AirTrain proposal and Astoria’s N train that a superior subway connection from LGA to Manhattan had been proposed by Rudy Guliani in the late 90s, but abandoned due to NIMBY opposition.

Benjamin Kabak points to Cap'n Transit Rides Again and the post from May, It's time to extend the N train to LaGuardia, where Cap'n Transit points out that the main "leaders" who fought against the N extension to LaGuardia have now passed from the scene, and now may be the time to test the waters again with the original N-train to LaGuardia plan. Read more about Sunday Train: Cuomo Backs the Worst Air Train to LaGuardia

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Sunday Train: The New Gulf Wind, NOLA to Orlando

In this September's Trains magazine{+}, Bob Johnston looks at the history and current state of play of the eastern section of the Sunset Limited route, running from New Orleans through to, most of the time, Orlando Florida. This is a live topic since both houses have passed Amtrak funding bills, which are currently awaiting reconciliation, and both include language setting up a group to study re-establishing intercity rail service on the Gulf Coast.

This also ties into three issues previously examined on the Sunday Train. The Orlando terminus offers the possibility of connecting rail services, which include the Carolina services, some of which extend through to Florida, and also the planned Rapid Rail All Aboard Florida hourly daytime passenger services between Orlando and Miami. And the western connection ties this into the previous Congress-mandated study of upgrades to the existing Sunset Limited, which proposed to replace the current route by extending the Texas Eagle through to Los Angeles, connecting to a New Orleans corridor service at San Antonio.

{+: Note that online access to Trains! magazine is mostly paywalled for subscribers to the print edition.} Read more about Sunday Train: The New Gulf Wind, NOLA to Orlando

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UK Election Results: Fear Wins in England, Hope wins in Scotland

cross-posted from Voices on the Square

In many quarters of US political discussion, the headline "big news" about the UK election that took place on Thursday, 7 May 2015 was that the POLLSTERS WERE WRONG!!!!.

For Economic Populists, the biggest headlines is that the party with the strongest anti-austerity message, the Scottish National Party, won the biggest victory of its political life, just a year after it lost a defeat on its signature issue ... while the traditional main left-of-center party of the UK, the Labour Party, saw pre-election, poll-inspired hope of an "anti-Tory majority" leading to a Labour minority government dashed. Read more about UK Election Results: Fear Wins in England, Hope wins in Scotland

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Sunday Train: West Virginia River Runner Rail and the Steel Interstates (from 1 May 2011)

Tonight's Sunday Train crosspost is a repeat of the 1 May, 2011 Sunday Train, from before the Sunday Train came to Voices On The Square

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The flashy rail projects are the very HSR projects to build bullet trains serving urban areas with millions of people.

But the role of rail in supporting sustainable extends beyond the bullet train system alone. It may not be critical to the financial success of these bullet trains to provide service to people living in urban areas of 50,000 to 200,000 ~ but its critical to these people to have access to some form of sustainable intercity transport.

Indeed, if we are going to be harvesting wind power, solar power, sustainably coppiced biocoal, geothermal, run of river hydro, and other sustainable resources ... we are going to be creating incomes in areas away from the 1m+ cities. We best look after the needs of the people who come to those areas looking for work. Read more about Sunday Train: West Virginia River Runner Rail and the Steel Interstates (from 1 May 2011)

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Sunday Train: Cyclists Clamoring for Segregation

While browsing around reading transport cycling news, I ran across a blog post from the UK from the second half of September: Bas' Blog: Coming to London: cycle paths fully separated from other traffic (vote!) 23 September 2014:

This morning in my inbox:

I am writing to let you know that Transport for London, in partnership with the boroughs of Southwark, Camden, Islington and the City of London, would like your views on proposals for a new Cycle Superhighway between Elephant & Castle and King’s Cross.

Yes please! TFL is asking for comments on the plans in a public consultation. More information on the plans can be found here (East-West route) and here (North-South route), you can leave comments here (E-W) and here (N-S).

,,, and when I looked around, stories about segregated "cycle paths" or "cycle tracks" or "cycleways" were not that hard to find. Join me below the fold for a look. Read more about Sunday Train: Cyclists Clamoring for Segregation

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Sunday Train: Reflections on a visit to the East Coast

Cross-posted from The Sunday Train ~ apologies for the jet-lag induced cross-posting delays

Your intrepid sustainable energy and transport reporter was recently required to engage in some official business with an overseas consulate located in New York city, and in order to be able to afford to sit and wait as the wheels of bureaucracy as long as might have been required, obtained lodgings in a relatively cheap motel in New Brunswick and took the NJ Transit Northeast Corridor train back and forth. This week's Sunday Train is a collection of scattered observations made along the way. Read more about Sunday Train: Reflections on a visit to the East Coast

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Sunday Train: NEC High Speed Rail for Under $20b (from 15Jul2012)

Sunday Train this week is a re-run from 15 July, 2012

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations . Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I'd like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper
...
In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.

This sounds like an intriguing possibility ... but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let's discuss it. Read more about Sunday Train: NEC High Speed Rail for Under $20b (from 15Jul2012)

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Sunday Train: Yet Another Airport Terminal Station Opens on Dallas's Orange Line

YAATS (Yet Another Airport Terminal Station) has opened in Dallas for the "orange line" in the Dallas Area Regional Transit light rail system. This is not at the regional airport Love Field, even though the Orange Line runs directly past Love Field, but at the Dallas / Fort Worth International airport, following completion of a five-mile extension to the western end of the Orange line.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

“Strategically, this is a major accomplishment,” said Mayor Mike Rawlings.

It is undoubtedly DART’s biggest accomplishment in its 31-year history. The way officials and regional leaders see it, the airport-rail link brims with promise. They say it will dramatically bolster North Texas transit options, attract more conventions and provide a smooth welcome to international visitors.

So lets take the Sunday Train to the airport, below the fold. Read more about Sunday Train: Yet Another Airport Terminal Station Opens on Dallas's Orange Line

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Sunday Train: The Two Transitions to A Renewable Electricity Supply

crossposted from The Sunday Train

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 on 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. Read more about Sunday Train: The Two Transitions to A Renewable Electricity Supply

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Sunday Train: The Era of Reverse Pumped Hydro

Crossposted from The Sunday Train

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. Read more about Sunday Train: The Era of Reverse Pumped Hydro

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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. Read more about Sunday Train: Fast and Slow Transit Should be Friends

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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. Read more about Sunday Train: HSR from Houston to Dallas one step closer to reality

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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. Read more about Sunday Train: What Future for America's Deadly Cul-de-Sacs?

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