Sunday, 24 April 2011

Clichés and Climate Change.

Don’t you just love talk about paradigm shifts?
I put that in the same basket as ‘moving forward’, ‘game changer’ and ‘breaking the nexus’.
OK, so here is a game changing paradigm shift moving forward that breaks the nexus tying cars to fossil fuels.

We all lurve our cars and have painted ourselves into a corner by our dependence. So how can we get out of that one? First, what is stopping us from dumping the petrol/diesel engine and taking to public transport? There are a thousand answers, but here is mine.

Public transport based on rail, light rail and buses does not work for enough of us. If you need to carry stuff, rail is of limited value, even if you live within a short walk of a train station. Light rail ditto. But even more difficult is the in-betweens, where distance increases the further out you live.

Infill is done with buses. But only the desperate catch buses for reasons of comfort (weather), time, ignorance of timetables, distance from gate to bus stop, perceptions of danger etc, and buses are impossible if one carries more than a lunch box and an umbrella.

So we get into the car and put up with traffic as we commute, shop or play and blame the government. Problem is; there is no money for double and then triple-decker roads in economies that are already in deficit big time. Catch 22!

But wait! Try this idea.
Cheap electric cars free ‘Super Train Stations’ and renewable base load power.
Do not panic. Read on and all will be explained.

Electric cars need a huge investment in infrastructure before they can replace gas (petrol/diesel) cars. Right now, Israel is the only state that has decided to install a nation-wide all-electric car ‘refuelling’ network. Good for them. But how does that apply in the US, Canada, South America, Africa, Russia, China, India and Australia for example, where we move stuff and people vast distances with huge gaps between population centres? It doesn’t.
Rail works fairly well over long distances and high speed rail promises non-polluting inter-city express services for people and freight. But it is commuter traffic that is causing the headaches.

If we can overcome the infrastructure problems, electric cars offer huge advantages. They are non-polluting, quiet and very cheap to run. They would also be cheap to make with only one moving part in a motor that needs as little attention as your refrigerator.

If only we were not trying to force them to fill the gas car slot! So unless someone is prepared to fund nation-wide infrastructure to support it, the gap is too wide. Then there are batteries. They are heavy and expensive.

While ever manufacturers insist we need to match the performance of a standard car/truck/ship/plane, we are stuck with high cost batteries. Actually, to fully match gas cars, such batteries do not yet, and may never exist. So to break the nexus requires that paradigm shift and this two-part game changer.

1. We start with a basic electric commuter car with choice of battery pack starting as low as 50Km (30 miles) should cost between US $5,000 and $10,000
2. A ‘Super Station’ rail network that uses existing infrastructure and costs government zilch to build.

What is, and why a Super Station?
Step one:
On any (surface) rail network in a city, pick the most outlying dormitory suburb and declare the space above, below and beside the train station vacant and available free to any developer who will build a Super Station then invite expressions of interest in building a complex that consists of:

Parking to accommodate commuter electric cars within a 7Km (4 mile) radius.
1. Parking is ‘free’ to owners of all-electric vehicles (and bicycles).
2. Electric cars plug in to the grid. Commuter cars are recognised by the complex’s computer that also registers expected exit time so batteries are charged to a satisfactory level before departure. But it is the hours in between that provide a unique opportunity.

When the system is mature, in between the time of arrival and departure, millions of cars across the city (and nation) remain plugged into the grid with millions of (privately owned) batteries providing storage for renewable electricity generators, solving their base load power problem. Power can be drawn out and pumped in as required. At home, cars are reconnected, so the only time their batteries are not available to the grid is while they are at neither home nor parking station. Neat? It gets better.

Moving forward;
1. Such complexes are offered to developers at planned locations , nominally about 12 km (7miles) apart, cutting the number of train stations needed to about a quarter or a fifth of those now existing, so with less stops, all trains become “express”.
2. Roll out. Development is started furthest out to most quickly reduce car-miles. The rate of roll out is controlled to provide continuity for building contractor, time for uptake of electric commuter cars, infrastructure adjustments etc.
3. Each Super Station is a discrete entity. It is immediately usable by electric vehicles from its feeder area (and further afield) and is not dependant on any wider support network.

So what’s in it for investors?
There is detail on station design, retail mix, uptake patterns that would fill pages, but suffice to say they make their money from retail shop rent and fees charged for access to their electricity storage capacity.

Two dreams are realised.
• Generators solve their base load power problem and
• Developers get a captive clientele. And what clientele is more captive than commuters coming off trains within their building, with their cars an elevator away and the next stop home!?

The cost of running an electric car to and from the station for a week is about 50c, and if the kids are dropped off at school and the car is used for sundry trips to sport, music lessons or the local adult shop, you might be up for $1 a week. And if it is used to drop people off at the station so the car is available for other family members, make that $2 a week!

Let’s have some fun with this!
We all say we need to fix climate change but we feel powerless to do anything effective. Maybe this won’t work, but it might prompt some better ideas. So, if you want the full article, e-mail me and I will send the whole 6 pages. Then you can tell me why you think it won’t work and together we can hone it up and start pestering politicians. We need that paradigm shift moving forward and maybe we can create the game changer that breaks the nexus!


  1. When he got a new job, my husband & I decided to live halfway between our jobs because I didn't really want to quit mine (& the economy is such that I wouldn't be able to easily replace that income). But because of that I drive almost 40 miles to work every day. While most of it is on rural roads (and therefore not too congested) the cost of gas is out of control!

    If I had a choice of public transpo that would get me to work in a reasonable amount of time I would probably put up with a lot of inconvenience. I love the idea you presented - I wish I didn't feel like it's a pipe dream :(

  2. All good except the power for the electric car batteries have to come from somewhere- at the moment from coal fired power stations. Electric cars are far from eco-friendly so really you are back to square one.

  3. Sounds like a plan Stafford! We can achieve anything if we have enough motivation. To urbandon above, in Australia the electricity can come from a number of renewable sources - solar, hydro, wind, geothermal etc., A house running on wind and solar could provide the electricity for at-home charge ups for the car. Stafford I just have one little issue - I think the term paradigm shift is completely different from those other expressions - a true paradigm shift is very rare but when it happens there is a major impact - it is a great concept so back off - haha.

  4. I hate to mention this but please do mention that the electric cars look great too! At the end of the day, there is a sizable chunk of people who buy cars based on how cool they make them look!

    That's life!

  5. I have lived in major metropolitan areas all over the USA. Now I live in a small city where I never have to drive more than five miles to do anything ... I can walk to the grocer, pharmacy, hairdresser, etc. Truly blessed I know. When I do visit large cities, I use public transport. Trying to do my little part.

  6. Great post, love your take on this. We don't even have public transport from our town to the nearest one only 20mins drive away. So we all take our cars to work, some of us car pool to save on petrol.

    Interesting that you met the young couple from south of Auckland, we have a few young people from our town who have left to find work in the mines.

  7. Thanks for the link ... just what Woonie needs ~~ a 3-wheeled oddball!

  8. Stafford,

    You have at least thought out a program that has the possibility of being accomplished. So many are pushing for banning gasoline and requiring electric with no consideration for what is really needed. While your system would undoubtedly require some adjustment, it could conceivably work. I wish our political figures would worry about what is needed rather than just their ideals.

  9. I am hoping for an electric car or a charcoaled powered car! I dont care as long as it moves me and doesn't take my paycheck to fill it. Electric cars seem the solution for a near future,but there are still many wrinkles to iron before they replace what we have now. I'm ready, but they are not.

  10. Helen is referring to this:
    I would buy one of these. To run it as a commuter car would cost around $1 to $2 a week. If the car lasts 10 years it pays for itself in fuel savings. It is the most efficient electric car currently in production but if you need to carry more than two adults and 125Kg of luggage (or groceries) there is this:
    These are just two of the many US electric cars that are in production or about to be, but the place to watch is China where they are going for all-electric big time.

    Urbandon raises a serious issue. Batteries are expensive, heavy and generate pollution during manufacture and disposal.
    Eventually, motive power will be provided by Hydrogen, generated by electrolysis from renewables. Hydrogen cars require no more battery power than your average torch (flashlight). Electrical power is generated by on board fuel cells and concentrated in a capacitor. Have a look at this:

    However, H cars require refuelling. I always envisaged the need for a H pipeline net, but interestingly, new refuelling stations in LA generate their H on site using Hydrolysers.
    At this point, Hydrolysers are powered from the grid which is still largely fossil fuelled, but that is most researched and technically ready link in the chain. We are getting there.

  11. just_because_today raises another issue. With the future on humanity at stake, our insistance that e-cars do everyting a conventional car can do before we buy them ignores the reason we need them.

  12. Great to read your ideas. I think we are coming, kicking and screaming, to the painful realization that the warnings over several decades have become reality and we will be forced to retrace our steps back to the more reasonable lifestyle we "enjoyed" years ago. Progress has tricked us. If the US uses such a high percentage of the world's resources to maintain a wasteful society, we all must support ideas such as yours. (I could use a horse and cart to get to most of the places I go to --- can't ya tell?)

  13. Keep up the big-brain, creative, spirited, push-forward posts, my friend. Love what you're doing here.


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