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An Energy Independence Diary

There is a common trend in my part of the Great Lakes States (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan) for discussion of sustainable energy to focus on commercial exploitation of the Wind Resource of the Great Lakes.

And why the Great Lakes? Because that's where the wind blows, as shown on the trimmed down version of the 2004 50m wind speed map for Ohio to the right. The pink, purple and red are the highest quality wind resources. And this is just 50 metres ... at 100 metres it gets better still.

So what does this have to do with driving? Well, sometimes the wind blows harder, and sometimes the wind blows softer ... and on this point wind power and driving snuggle right together with a whole bunch of Energy Independence posts I have already made. How things link together ... is after the fold.

Back in Retrofitting Outer Suburbia, I talked about a version of transport-oriented development for bring clustered "suburban village" development into existing "outer suburban sprawl" areas.


Now, as you can see, the bulk of the area would still be covered by outer suburban sprawl ... however, each outer suburban resident is now within easy driving distance of a transport-oriented outer suburban village. So if we could give them a special incentive to drive to that village and park-and-ride, we can recruit even more patronage for those transport services.

And even if its only 25% who find it convenient to use 10% of the time ... users of services vote out those who take convenient services away, and add on top the rural village residents themselves (who will tend to be heavy users) and it can become real local political clout.

And Pluggable Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV's) offer the promise of that special incentive. Suppose that we have a PHEV with a 20 mile range (a "PHEV20"). If we have a 25 mile commute ... and no plug at the other side ... than that is 20 miles all electric in the morning, fully charged, and 5 miles in Hybrid-Electric mode, and 25 miles back in Hybrid-Electric mode.

Now, for everyone within 10 miles of the suburban village stop, they can drive 10 miles all electric to the suburban village, park and ride, and 10 miles back, all electric. And if there is a plug at the park and ride, their range is extended ... for example, for chores in the evening when there is no time to plug in again.

As estimated in the 2001 report, Comparing the Benefits and Impacts of Hybrid Electric Vehicle Options (pdf), a PHEV20 has about the same fuel efficiency as an equivalent non-pluggable HEV when running in a "fuel-only" mode, rising to about 2.5 times the efficiency when running in a "charge only" mode.

So a tax break based purely on its "free standing" benefit would help get them out into the market, and then once they are out in the market, they can help support a transport-oriented outer-suburban redevelopment strategy.

But What Does This Have To Do With Wind?

A notable aspect of wind power is that it provides a very attractive source of power, but it is inherently variable. Of course, that is not a deal killer. Indeed, some of the same techniques used with nuclear power, which is not designed to be switched on and off quickly, can be used to buffer the output of wind generators.

This includes solutions like pumped-storage hydropower, where the water is pumped to the top reservoir using an excess supply of electricity, and then runs a hydropower generator during a period of excess demand.  This is especially relevant to Great Lakes windpower, since the Great Lake itself provides the lower reservoir.

It is important to wrap our mind around the big picture here. Just in our high-energy areas, offshore and onshore, our potential windpower resource is in the order of magnitude of the nation's total electricity consumption. So this is not a trivial little buffering problem we are talking about. I have not seen a table, but I expect that North America, between the Great Lakes, the Continental Shelf, and the Great Plains (including Texas and South as well as the Dakotas and North) probably has the second best wind resource per person after the continent of Australia.

If we are going to really tap our high quality sustainable windpower resource, the energy storage question is not a minor issue. It may not be a deal killer, but the smaller the storage capacity as a share of generator capacity, the more cost-effective the system, and the more and sooner it will be yielding substantial benefits for our economy.

And this is where Smart-Grid (pdf) comes in.

Suppose that your car can receive information on an information network running alongside the power grid about an increase in supply coming up ... which will lead to an off-peak rate for electric power. And it can say how quickly it is interested in charging at that rate. As long as they are plugged in to charge, they act as a customer-side extension of the power-storage capacity of the system.

And then with the park-and-ride system, we close the loop by having many of those cars plugged in not just the eight hours we (ought to be) at home sleeping ... but also the eight hours that some lucky fully employed stiff is off at work.

Distributed, decentralised, electric storage.

Of course, that further reduces the cost of driving in electric mode compared to gas, ethanol-turbine, or biodiesel fueled mode, and further increases the economic appeal of park-and-ride commuting. Going from 8 or (if we are lucky) 4 gallons per 100 miles commuting to 1 gallon (or equivalent) per 100 miles driving, and perhaps 100 miles driving per 400 miles commuting.

And the Macroeconomic of It All

To top it all off, of course, is the Macroeconomics of the whole package.

The most obvious is that driving on energy we generated ourselves, rather than driving on imported energy, means an improvement in our Current Account Blow-Out. And when we pay each other for something, that is income that has a chance to come around again for another round, as the people we paid can then pay us for something.

And then there is the issue of the longer term industrial development. The US is not a world leader in producing Wind Generators, but if we start to seriously exploit any of our main Wind Resources, we will become a world leader. And that is not a "portable DVD player" type of manufacturing process ... that is a capital intensive process requiring stringent material and production process standards ... with an important aspect of the capital costs involving ongoing maintenance. This is a capital equipment industry that the US once led in, and that the US can be the leader in.

Even more, where there are labor intensive components, some substantial benefits for the labor intensive stages to be located in Mexico rather than China ... where the production in Mexico has positive side-effects both with our export markets there, and with the pressure for illegal entry for illegal employment in the US.

And finally is the local level economic impact. Spending less money on driving cars fewer miles means more money for the local economies, which is good for Main Street and good for the local labor market.

So, to sum up, it seems to be good for the national economic activity, national productive capacity, and local economic health.

Why Ohio?

Why Ohio? Why Lake Erie? Heck, that's simple. No Republican has ever been elected President without carrying Ohio.


Since Lincoln.

Now, I would not restrict it to Ohio ... I'd suggest the whole Great Lakes area, including far Western New York ... and extending into Canada to the extent that cooperation brings mutual benefits. And, indeed, the phase in of the "smart grid" PHEV20's can also involve a substantial contribution from "Detroit" (though of course "Detroit" spreads through a network of interconnected industries into Ohio as well).

I'm not saying that it should be a political pet project. The plan should be fleshed out and developed on its merits as a step toward Sustainable Energy Independence.

But, hey, if you gotta start somewhere, why not propose starting in a State that has been a bedrock core of the Republicans Presidential election strategy since 1860?

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Tue Jan 02, 2007 at 07:00 PM PST.

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