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Re: [carfree_cities] Hydrogen-fueled cars still far off into the future

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  • J.H. Crawford
    Responding to Mike Harrington, I m going to have to drop this discussion due to the press of time. To be clear, I m not an economist of any stripe, and most
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 7, 2003
      Responding to Mike Harrington,

      I'm going to have to drop this discussion due to the press of time.

      To be clear, I'm not an economist of any stripe, and most certainly
      not a supply-sider. Maybe $10/gallon fuel from renewable sources
      will be there, maybe not. All I'm saying is that we should not base
      our strategy for implementing carfree cities on the availability,
      or not, of energy, at whatever price. These are not the most important
      reasons for moving to carfere cities. I think that we should sell
      the idea on all its merits, without claiming that carfree cities must
      inevitably come about just because the oil is running out.

      Regards,



      >Okay, since we're talking about the future and no one can ever be entirely
      >certain exactly how the future unfolds, I'll allow that you could be right
      >and I might well be wrong. But claims of 250 MPG for IC engines aren't new,
      >either. Most people interested in energy have seen the cramped and
      >potentially very unsafe vehicles that can achieve eighty MPG, but there
      >doesn't seem to be a market for many of them, even in places where fuel
      >taxes make gasoline three or four times as expensive as gas in the United
      >States. Miniaturization and lighter materials for vehicle components will
      >not be a panacea for a crashing, obsolete, late twentieth-century economy
      >based on the premise of cheap energy, something which, again, in my opinion,
      >will occur early in this century.
      >
      >With all due respect to Mr. Crawford, I detect an implicit assumption of
      >supply-side economics, a potentially lethal train of thought adhered to by
      >the proponents of continuing unlimited auto use and the complementary policy
      >of government in North America towards the facilitation and encouragement of
      >urban
      >sprawl. Mr. Crawford is apparently an environmentalist and doesn't think
      >sprawl is a good thing. Neither do I. In the late 60's I became aware of
      >the potentially disastrous effect that the assumption of perpetually cheap
      >oil and gas prices would one day have on the American economy. After the
      >energy shocks in the 1970's caused by the permanent decline in North
      >American oil production, despite improved well recovery and intense
      >exploration in the first twenty-five of the past thirty years, the quality
      >of life declined and the North American economy never recovered. By the
      >late 1970's, Milton Friedman and others came out with supply-side economics,
      >an elaborate resuscitation of Adam Smith's invisible hand mixed in with a
      >kind of blind faith in science and technology, which says that increasing
      >prices for commodities will stimulate research and development which will
      >thereby lower the effective cost of goods and services, regardless of the
      >particular engineering hurdles to be overcome.
      >
      >Instead of questioning an economic system that locks people in to high
      >energy use by facilitating sprawl and raiding property, sales, and income
      >taxes to subsidize the private automobile, the flat-earth economists have
      >simply assumed that "technology", a kind of deity to them, will somehow
      >continue to accommodate this outdated lifestyle. This has put everyone into
      >a very precarious situation, because economic growth since the end of WWII
      >has been predicated on accelerating energy and land use. Like a pyramid
      >scheme, if global energy use doesn't increase by two percent per year, the
      >contemporary economic house of cards collapses into permanent recession and
      >declining living standards, temporarily keeping the price of energy low.
      >When mature fields like those in Saudi Arabia hit their Hubbert Peaks, that
      >means that the fields' production the following year will be less than it
      >was in the peak year. Economists are universally unprepared for this,
      >largely due to their wishful thinking that future big finds will be made or
      >enhanced well recovery will make up the shortfall. From what I can see,
      >they're heading straight up a blind alley, since the Oil Depletion Analysis
      >Centre has already built new recovery methods and discoveries into the
      >Estimated Ultimately
      >Recoverable numbers. Sure, there will be some improvement for the estimated
      >trillion dollar cost of retooling non-OPEC wells, and there will be new
      >discoveries in deep water and polar areas, but discoveries have been nowhere
      >close to consumption for a long time.
      >
      >The current situation has all the earmarking of an end of an era. When
      >energy prices rise first by a factor of five, then ten, and then twenty,
      >there will be few defenders of the late-twentieth century lifestyle. What
      >will
      >stocks, bond, commercial paper, savings accounts, land, or any other
      >investment be worth in an economic system that is based on cheap energy?
      >How far will gold take you on three hundred dollar-barrel oil? Oil and gas
      >are not just commodities, they have a transcendent nature which makes all
      >other commodities possible. There are simply no good substitutes for oil
      >and natural gas. Every alternative energy source discourages the use of the
      >automobile and promotes dense, car free development.
      >
      >
      >----- Original Message -----
      >From: "J.H. Crawford" <mailbox@...>
      >To: <carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com>
      >Sent: Thursday, February 06, 2003 3:41 AM
      >Subject: Re: [carfree_cities] Hydrogen-fueled cars still far off into the
      >future
      >
      >
      >>
      >> Mike Harrington said:
      >>
      >> >No worries about "cars forever."
      >>
      >> Yes, worries about cars forever. That's what I was saying in my last
      >> post. If we have 250 MPG vehicles (now on the road) and even quite
      >> modest levels of sustainable energy production, even at $10/gallon,
      >> we'll have cars forever. I hope it works out this way, as cars are
      >> the only practical option for people living in rural areas. I want
      >> them out of cities, and I don't think we can rely on the coming
      >> oil shortage to make that happen. Also remember that coal can
      >> easily be converted into hydrogen or hydrocarbon, which I believe
      >> is Bush's plan for "energy independence" and the reason he has
      >> repudiated Kyoto.
      >>
      >> >.......snip.....I think the US is
      >> >the most unprepared nation in the developed world for what is to come.
      >>
      >> That's for sure, but that may also change before the pinch comes.
      >>
      >> >Admittedly, I look at mature technology projects with a more jaundiced
      >eye
      >> >than you do.
      >>
      >> I don't think so. I look at all technology with a very jaundiced eye.
      >> (I'd like to have cell-phone-free cities, but I've given up on this.)
      >> Just because I think a technology may work doesn't mean that I support
      >> its adoption; far from it.
      >>
      >> >I think that history shows us the major long-term innovations
      >> >have a project life cycle of between thirty-five and fifty years. That
      >time
      >> >window is the period when engineers will squeeze most of the cost savings
      >> >out of a technology. After at most fifty years, almost all of the
      >> >efficiencies are realized. Both solar energy and fuel cells are on the
      >high
      >> >side of their development life cycles, and they are by no means "new"
      >> >concepts in 2003.
      >>
      >> Solar is about mid-way through developmnet; fuel cells are early still,
      >> and have really not been commercialized yet. Expect considerable
      >> gains in solar and huge gains in fuel cells. The precious-metal catalyst
      >> is the only thing I see that may stop fuel cell development.
      >>
      >> >The cost of fuel cell automobile is about nine times that
      >> >of an internal combustion engine. The reduction in fuel cell cost by a
      >> >factor of one hundred in the first thirty years of their fairly intense
      >> >development will prove a lot easier than the final nine. The most
      >important
      >> >factor in any research project is time, not money, and fuel cells have
      >> >already used up a bunch of the former. Even with a generous dose of
      >faith
      >> >in future progress in fuel cell engineering, it's pretty safe to say that
      >> >fuel cells will price themselves out of the SOV market for common people,
      >> >even if methane wasn't going to be a problem in the US.
      >>
      >> I don't think we can make this glib assumption. It may be correct, but
      >> it may not be, and I don't want to base our strategy on the assumption
      >> that cars are simply going to go away because of fuel shortages.
      >>
      >> >As far as solar energy is concerned, the energy density of sunlight is
      >such
      >> >that not enough falls on any one area for it to be economical for
      >anything
      >> >other than tiny applications. Both tidal and wind energy are cheaper
      >than
      >> >solar energy. When you start thinking about solar collectors the size of
      >> >Manhattan, in other words, on a scale where it could make a significant
      >dent
      >> >in the coming energy shortfall, solar energy's cost is prohibitive.
      >>
      >> Dispersed solar collectors for hot water are cost-effective in many places
      >> even at today's low energy prices. When the cost of PV panels falls again
      >by
      >> about 50%, they will also be competitive with grid power even at today's
      >> low prices, even if no further reductions occur. So, I don't agree with
      >this
      >> conclusion at all.
      >>
      >> Regards,
      >>
      >>
      >> >----- Original Message -----
      >> >From: "J.H. Crawford" <mailbox@...>
      >> >To: <carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com>
      >> >Sent: Tuesday, February 04, 2003 4:31 PM
      >> >Subject: Re: [carfree_cities] Hydrogen-fueled cars still far off into the
      >> >future
      >> >
      >> >
      >> >>
      >> >> Mike Harrington said:
      >> >>
      >> >> I take issue with several of these points, which I regard as
      >> >> dangerous to our efforts.
      >> >>
      >> >> >In any case, fuel cells will be a joke after natural gas production
      >peaks
      >> >in North America, probably around 2020. Even now, North American drilling
      >> >crews are having a harder time keeping up with demand, with increasingly
      >> >smaller production on new wells.
      >> >>
      >> >> This is probably approximately correct. However, this does not
      >> >> mean that a high-capacity solar-based fuel industry will not
      >> >> be in place by the time declining gas and oil production really
      >> >> begins to bite. If it is, then it'll be "cars forever" unless
      >> >> we have really made our case that it's the social and aesthetic
      >> >> issues that are most important and that cannot be fixed by
      >> >> technology.
      >> >>
      >> >> >The time is running out on personal transportation, because methane
      >> >production in North America will peak not long after global petroleum
      >> >production's peak.
      >> >>
      >> >> Volkswagen has road-tested a vehicle that gets 100 km/liter (about 250
      >> >MPG).
      >> >> IF we move to highly fuel-efficient vehicles, conventional fuels might
      >> >last
      >> >> quite a long time. (I'll grant that as long as Bush is in the White
      >House,
      >> >> there's little risk of that happening!)
      >> >>
      >> >> >Rising energy prices will be the death warrant for the automobile
      >> >industry as we now know it.
      >> >>
      >> >> I doubt that driving would diminish by even 50% if gasoline cost
      >> >> $10.00 a gallon. People would probably buy smaller cars, but they
      >> >> would tend to keep right on driving.
      >> >>
      >> >> >What makes me even more skeptical of fuel cells for automobiles is
      >that
      >> >it is doubtful that a fuel cell vehicle's cost will ever come close to
      >the
      >> >price of an internal combustion-powered car.
      >> >>
      >> >> Don't bet on this one, either. I'll grant that it's a long way from
      >> >> a certainty, but techonology often surprises us. Remember that the
      >> >> computer I'm typing on now would have been worth *trillions* in 1940.
      >> >> Now it's not even worth thousands. I'll grant that there are issues
      >> >> with precious-metal catalysts, but they may find a way around this
      >> >> (and I hope they do, as it would make the fuel-cell tram feasible).
      >> >>
      >> >> The hybrids are here today, and they work fine. I've driven one a
      >> >> fair bit, and it's basically indistinguishable from other cars as
      >> >> far as performance is concerned, but it gets 50 MPG. If we set
      >> >> hardware speed limits of, say 60 MPH on all new cars (i.e., mandated
      >> >> that no car could be *capable* of speeds in excess of 60 MPH), then
      >> >> the huge engines now installed could be replaced with hybrids running
      >> >> on maybe 20 horsepower. These cars could get probably 100 MPG and
      >> >> could be on the road in a couple of years. If oil gets tight, that's
      >> >> what's going to happen (remember 1980, when the econo-box cars were
      >> >> all the rage, and people were *burning* their Cadillacs).
      >> >>
      >> >> I do keep hoping that oil prices will spike (remember that the
      >> >> all-time high is about $140/barrel in today's money), but it's
      >> >> a weak foundation on which to build an entire movement. Let's
      >> >> concentrate on the issues that technology can never fix, while
      >> >> certainly keeping mind those that it might fix.
      >> >>
      >> >> Regards,
      >> >>
      >> >>
      >> >>
      >> >>
      >> >> -- ### --
      >> >>
      >> >> J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      >> >> mailbox@... Carfree.com
      >>
      >>
      >>
      >> -- ### --
      >>
      >> J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      >> mailbox@... Carfree.com
      >>
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      >
      >
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      -- ### --

      J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      mailbox@... Carfree.com
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