Lost in Transmission: Energy

In light of agriculture and urbanization, the need for new and improved infrastructure to transport and transmit water, electricity, natural gas, oil, etc. is never ending  (see Keystone XL Pipeline frenzy).

Oil spills have risen over the past decade.  There is 2.5 million miles of infrastructure to gather, transmit, and distribute oil and natural gas.  According to a 2001 study of oil spills, pipelines are the source of more spills than barges and tankers combined.  While the rate of spillage has reduced, spills in the future are likely due to aging infrastructure.  When the paper was written, 46% of the pipeline infrastructure was already three decades old, and 16% have been in place for half a century.  (Keep in mind this study is over a decade old.)  Do we build new pipelines while precariously ignoring old infrastructure?  Spills throughout the oil industry in the US are ubiquitous.  See a Current Spill Map.

Electricity.  We really like our electricity.  It’s not too hard to think that we blare the television while we vacuum the carpet; the microwave is cooking food in the kitchen while the monstrous fridge (with the door opened dozens of times during the day) works overtime.  Meanwhile, the sunlight-blocking drapes are closed and the lights are on.  Is anybody home??  While we could all learn a lesson on energy conservation in the United States, transmitting electricity to our homes is also a particularly important topic.  Electricity is usually generated miles away from its market, although it cannot be easily stored.  And with expansive grids, transmission losses are often estimated to be between 5-7%.  Generating electricity on a large-scale, far from customers is rather inefficient, even for  solar power.  However, solar power is an alternative that can be produced in close proximity to consumers–on home and commercial roofs, on terraces, on cars, on pavement, in windows, etc.  Despite many common reservations and misconceptions, photovoltaic technology is amazing and quickly evolving.   A home or institution tied to a grid that allows net-metering can resell excess generated energy or take in grid energy when home-power isn’t enough.

Instead of looking ahead to building more pipelines, more infrastructure, more coal power plants, more oil rigs, why don’t we seriously revisit our existing infrastructure?  Surely replacing and improving existing oil and natural gas pipelines will create jobs while appealing to those with environmental concerns.  A steady transition from central, transmission-intensive electricity generation to micro-generation on-site is also important.  Local resources could be used, including wind, solar, and geothermal, in concert with contemporary electricity generation over a smart grid with net-metering.

An underlying theme in all this is energy responsibility.  At this age, we’re aware of our inefficiencies, and we’re aware that in the United States we consume A LOT of energy on a lot of things.  There are so many things we can do in an effort to conserve energy and our resources.  However, that’s for another day on the soap box.

Fuel Economy Tips: Hypermiling and Ecomodding

(http://www.slideshare.net/themarkofpolo/ecodriving-for-college-students) (no audio)

I gave this presentation to fellow college students during an Earth Day event. I’ve followed the advice and example of several folks at ecomodder.com, who have taught me how to improve my fuel economy in my 2007 Pontiac Vibe.

I am able to do so by first, “Adjusting the nut behind the wheel,” by simply changing my driving habits. I am much more patient, much more aware of my surroundings, and able to squeeze MPGs by coasting (in gear) as much as possible.

Next, I’ve added instrumentation to track my progress (ScanGauge). By knowing my average and instantaneous fuel economy readings, along with other information like coolant temp and intake air temp, I am able to adjust my driving style on the fly to garner more MPGs.

Finally, I’ve slightly modified my vehicle for greater efficiency.  See the presentation for more information on “Ecomodding.”

Before visiting the site, I averaged 28.5 MPG hwy/city combined and ranging from 28 to 33 in city and on the highway, respectively. Now, my fuel economy ranges from 30 to 38 for city/hwy. For all fillups recorded since mid 2010, I am averaging 33+ mpg on a fairly regular basis.  (Sure, it would be better not to drive at all, however that is simply not an option in the Midwest.)

If you decide to visit ecomodder.com or similar sites like cleanmpg.com, check through their exhaustive lists of tips.  If you have questions, take them to the forums and join scores of people seeking to reduce their fuel consumption and save money in the process.