A Reader Critiques My Energy Plan

While I have done a lot of critiquing on my blog, reader Evan Mitchell turned the tables on me and provided a thorough critique of the energy plan I recently proposed in An Open Letter to Our Next President. Evan sent it to me by e-mail, and I asked and received permission to publish it here. Other than a bit of formatting, it is as I received it. Portions of the plan I initially proposed are in blockquotes in the text.

Regular readers know that my main purpose here is to engage in and foster debate around our energy policy, and it is with that in mind that I present Evan’s critique below.


Hi Robert,

I read your energy plan and I am completely on board with the goal of where the whole letter is trying to go. I think we have a lot in common. I sincerely think about this topic very frequently and I offer some constructive criticism and suggestions for addressing additional interrelated topics, should any open minded political power actually take this letter anywhere.

I really believe that your R-squared blog community has the potential to responsibly shape the future of the US. We have a unique engineering problem, an over use of energy that is caused by humans, civilization. Solutions will require more than the technological solutions which contributed to the original problem. The US is sadly run by the advice and influence of a few corporate chairpersons. We desperately need to “take the power back” and redistribute credibility to common people, and to voice common folks’ practical and experienced opinions about the feasibility of our future development and/or undevelopment.

For your referencing convenience, my comments are in blue font, my solutions or useful suggestions are underlined.

Your introduction and address are eloquently written, I cannot do any better myself. Within the past decade, I too have invested much thought of the same ideas you present in the five points. I have since discovered that intensely progressive ideas need more development to work smoothly, there needs to be a fair, universally truthful method when such changes are forced, which maintains the merit and respect for the hard work of every citizen. Though you and I want to become crude oil independent, many hard working folks are not so far-sighted, or comfortable enough to embrace such drastic lifestyle changes. They become understandably offended at the slightest hint of shame in the status quo for which they work very hard.

Politically our ‘great’ ideas immediately get trash-canned as bipartisan ‘liberal crap’ I know this because my disgruntled, hard working, near to retirement age dad listens to talk radio constantly in his work van, and he is programmed (nearly brainwashed) to judge any progressive change as a senseless hurdle created by the ‘damn liberals’. After carefully breaking that ice, he is very reasonable, open to, conscientious of, and interested in discussing the real problems in our culture. People have a tendency to isolate one problem, and go to battle against it, when the problem is multifaceted, and requires many interrelated solutions to effectively conquer. As you may be well aware, energy balances can get very complicated and require measurements from many different, but interrelated sources and angles. It is my opinion that your energy letter could benefit from some mention of changes to our infrastructure, or the way we get around, instead of focusing on what kind of boxes we do it in. This is really damn cliché, but we need to ‘think outside the box(es)’.

1. We must improve the fuel efficiency of our automotive fleet. It is an embarrassment. Here again, we have sought the easy solution: Just increase CAFE standards. Most people view this as a relatively painless solution. They think that instead of their Ford Expedition getting 14 mpg, the automotive industry has tricks up their sleeves that can push it to 24 mpg. All that is required is a bit of legislation, which doesn’t affect me, the consumer. But that’s not the way it works. To achieve 24 mpg, we are going to require a fundamental change in the SUV mindset.

We have fuel efficient vehicles available now, we just need to convince people to buy them. I propose to offer rebates ranging from $500 to $2000 for vehicles that achieve high fuel efficiency. I propose to penalize vehicles that achieve low fuel efficiency. I propose to phase these changes in over the next 3 years.

This is an old issue, the MPG debate, and it is a self perpetuating debate for the continued use of gasoline as a transportation fuel. How does the energy efficiency compare to a diesel vehicle, a natural gas vehicle, or a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, or a human powered vehicle? All these fuels have different energy concentrations for their respective fuels quantities. We should instead focus on relaying the message of equivalent energy consumption and get away from the reactive focus on the price of gasoline. Personally I like the food equivalent standard, which I have actually figured. It conveys how many available fuel Kcals, or food energy equivalents, are required for a mile or a Km of vehicle operation. It is fascinating to know how many Haitians starve on the commute to work every day, maybe even useful to know how much corn a tractor eats to make more corn (not even an ethanol joke).

It is my opinion that green cars are not optimally offered as a sincere means to improve our world, but more as an offering, to appeal to a niche market, which is very profitable to auto makers. I have heard that the Hummer uses less net energy to produce than the Prius. Even if it is just propaganda, it raises a significant debate which reveals that Prius consumers may not be completely aware of the overall truth to their thoughtful and responsible consumer decision. It is also important to note that the Prius is by far, not the most economical vehicle to own and operate and not accessible to all concerned consumers. I am using the Prius as an example, because there are currently emissions tax benefits, HOV lane benefits, etc. for Prius owners, though the Prius may not genuinely be the only or the best option for progress in our transportation culture. There are no such taxes for VW diesel passenger cars, which are similarly expensive, polluting, and efficient. I would have to install training wheels on my bicycle (needs 4 wheels) to reap any emissions credits or fiscal benefits.

I would like to see better ways to promote fair competition among transportation innovators than the black and white, discriminatory subsidies and tax breaks promoting select cars. Besides, I’m sure there are scenarios where the SUV can provide an economical means of transportation, but these scenarios are just not often encouraged, recognized, or commonly practiced. A 15-passenger van can be far more economical and eco-friendly than a Prius, if it is not singly occupied, driven daily, or empty. There could exist a community of two or more families who commute to work and school via bus, bicycle, train, etc, and share a van between them for higher occupancy trips and/or or moving quantities of stuff. The community’s responsible planning and appropriate use of available tools is not fiscally supported by a rebate on a new, single occupancy, get my wealthy, lonely self to the lonely work parking lot-car.

2. Continuing with the theme of the first proposal, we need to find other ways to reduce our fuel consumption. Europe provides a useful guide here, as the average per capita energy consumption in Europe is half that of the U.S. How do they achieve this?

Primarily, they have achieved this by making fuel very expensive. Because I don’t think it would be fair to penalize you as a result of the decisions made by previous administrations, I propose to make this proposal revenue neutral. The goal here is not to collect more taxes; it is to encourage behaviors that reduce fuel consumption. So here is the specific proposal.

The average American consumes 1,000 gallons of gasoline a year. I propose to increase the federal gasoline tax by $0.20/gallon this year, $0.30/gallon next year, and then $0.50/gallon in each of the three following years. The total tax increase I am proposing is $2.00/gallon. This would still put gasoline prices at less than they are in Europe, but by having a clear understanding that gasoline prices won’t be going down, this will encourage conservation measures.

In order to offset the burden of these higher taxes, I propose a tax credit equivalent to the increased tax burden for the average American. This is equivalent to $200 in the first year of the tax. Those who use less gasoline than the average will actually see their overall tax burden go down. Those who consume more than 1,000 gallons per year will see an overall increase in their tax burden – and will therefore have a strong incentive to reduce their fuel consumption. For those whose fuel usage is for business use, the fuel taxes can be deducted against your business income.

Though I personally would not complain about such a tax on fuel, I would not be overly excited or motivated to support it, because I already ride my bicycle weekdays, year round, and there is little immediate benefit for me. If I was an average Merican, limited to commuting singly by car, I would have an old car, be incapable of buying a newer more fuel efficient car, not making enough money to reap any idealistic tax benefits from the latest technology, and my kids would still be hungry and I would legitimately bitch at a tax directed against my current sad state of affairs. Personally, I won’t get any free bicycle parts or dry socks, and bus fare may just go up more with the fuel directed taxes. So again, the common folks who are planning responsibly and using their tools appropriately are still out of the loop. The middle class and poor will be targeted to get poorer. Merican’s don’t take kindly to it, and won’t openly support it.

3. Solutions will be required on the supply side as well. However, too many “solutions” to date rely heavily on fossil fuels, which is the very problem we are trying to mitigate. Therefore, I am appointing an independent panel of experts across multiple disciplines – environmental, energy, agriculture – to evaluate various sources for 1). Reliance on fossil fuels; and 2). Negative side effects. There will be specifically defined criteria that alternative sources must meet in order to qualify for tax breaks. For example, energy “producers” – fossil and alternative – will pay a surcharge on the fossil fuel inputs they use to run their operations. This will encourage a move away from the use of fossil fuels to produce “renewable” energy.

Here’s the big hit! This is where a little careful action can actually act the way we want it to, to promote responsible planning, and appropriate use of tools. Consumerism is king. Capitalism is USA’s game. Curb your consumerism in a fair manner, and this mother will invent, innovate, re-evaluate, and promote change for the better. In a democracy you can’t fairly direct taxes against already targeted fuel consumers, but I think we might be able to apply taxes that evenly distribute the burden and responsibility to all consumers, and encourage suppliers and fuel consumers to make better decisions overall. My solution is to construct a system that will tax every officially traded good based on the physical constraints of product mass, and distance moved. This is an energy tax fairly applied to every material consumer good.

Now, like any plan, this will be met with harsh criticism, but I want to acknowledge, I realize there will be some drawbacks to such a tax.

-how can we possibly calculate all this information, isn’t that too much work. No, our country’s military developed a very powerful satellite location/navigation system called GPS, and our technology companies are busily developing GIS software to utilize this technology. Microsoft and McIntosh companies are both Merican innovators. Let’s put our own technologies to work, make our own stuff, and make our economy strong again! Maybe this could somehow create a push for full adoption of the metric system! Now that’s exciting!

-black markets and smugglers may be a popularized crime, sick the war on drug soldiers on it, they are experienced, it may leave drug smugglers fewer places to hide and help the drug busting cause.

-The uniformity (quality) of our consumer goods will likely decrease as smaller local business emerges: yeah I know, but that’s inevitable and needs to gradually be realized as our energy sources dry up anyways.

-What about small items of negligible weight, which are usually sent by the USPS, UPS, FEDEX, etc? These organizations have already worked out and built in a tax to accommodate the significant mass, distance, and volume expenses, maybe we could exempt such small items as CD’s, small letters, etc, pertaining to domestic sharing of info and legal documents, and continue the tax over a carefully determined weight limit. Cooperating with these organizations should prove very helpful, everybody will be affected fairly, business will continue, but less impulsively.

-What about items moved very short distances, is that fair? You are a locale, act like one and fiscally benefit from local interaction and help your neighbors, is that such a bad thing? Isn’t that the whole point? Maybe a special rate, or a number of zip codes crossed can be applied for the more locally moved items near zip code, state, or national boundaries.

-Major warehouses and distribution centers will become less effective, and more complicated, causing due stress to such workers and in time restructuring will happen causing said jobs to be ‘lost’. This is also a sad reality of the energy crunch, but at least there will be more warning signs of unemployment than the alternative economical crashes. If you think optimistically, and of jobs as you do of mass and of energy, jobs cannot be created nor destroyed, only modified or transferred.

-Energy products that are transported by machines which use energy products will be doubly taxed: Yup, that’s why it is an energy tax. Its whole purpose is to gradually, naturally, and fairly encourage capitalism to streamline our uses of energy and energy products. For instance, electricity won’t be heavily taxed, because it has very little mass associated with its transport, but it already has an inherent disadvantage built into its storage and transmission over long distances. So this tax encompasses the fair encouragement of; local economic development and GDP, renewable and local energy sources and energy sources which produce electrical energy. Also encouraged will be the consumption of products which; require less fossil fuel and foreign oil inputs and are produced locally under humane working conditions and locally accepted environmental controls.

4. In order to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels for heating and electricity, I propose to extend tax credits for installation of solar systems, especially those for solar water heating. Tax credits for installation of wind power, geothermal power, tidal power, and various other qualifying energy sources will be extended for 10 years.

-YES! Solar water heating needs to get much more support, PV just isn’t as efficient and doesn’t last. This is a topic I don’t have a lot of input into, I’m not a home owner. I would like to see better encouragement for; more responsible land development that is more reasonably linked to infrastructure, rebuilding/restructuring abandoned border areas between urban and suburban, more dense housing communities, again, thinking of the whole community, outside the box(es) and picket fence(s). I do like the idea of using smart grids (Excel energy Boulder, CO) to monitor energy use, and maybe in an advanced electrical energy grid system, we can provide tax breaks per capita, to those who use less electrical energy, further encouraging solar installs and proactive landlords.

5. From my viewpoint, we need to move to a future in which electricity drives our transport systems. The electricity would be derived initially from existing sources like coal and nuclear power, but increasingly from solar, wind, and various other renewable sources. Improved battery technology and energy storage technologies are the key enabling technologies required. Therefore, I am proposing to significantly increase the funding and resources devoted to these technologies. Cash awards will also be available to inventors meeting certain key milestones – as inspired by the Automotive X PRIZE.

These five proposals are merely a start. I understand that for some of you, these changes will be painful. But the pain is coming regardless; I am just proposing to manage it in a more effective and predictable manner. For too long, we have been too passive in managing our oil addiction. The time has come for more aggressive measures.

-Yup, good idea! Bush was surprisingly on it with his fuel cell (better batteries) funding.

Such proposals would not be without harsh critics, and would require strong leadership to push them through. Special interests will line up to protect their pocketbooks. Short-sighted politicians will try to protect a few at the expense of many. Will you be the president who takes a stand, tells the hard truth about our energy predicament, and pushes through measures that secure a brighter future for our children? Or will you be like the long succession of presidents who have made hollow promises and offered false solutions – only to see our dependence worsen?

I hope I wasn’t too harsh. The political hurdle is formidable and I just want to see everybody’s concerns addressed so this stuff can happen sooner than bipartisan later. I still haven’t figured a way to gain wide support for the ‘energy’ tax’, but I think it is at least workable. I have a good grasp of reality and ideas, but I lack your eloquent way of presenting such information that is invaluable in the political process. Let’s all work together so I can again spell Merica with a capital A, in good conscience. I have faith in addicts, I’ve encountered many addicts who are not dumb, and who have come up with very clever solutions and adaptations to their supply needs.

Thanks for maintaining your blog, and dispelling common energy myths in the US.

Evan Mitchell

17 thoughts on “A Reader Critiques My Energy Plan”

  1. Two points:

    > Though I personally would not complain about
    > such a tax on fuel, I would not be overly excited
    > or motivated to support it, because I already ride
    > my bicycle weekdays, year round, and there is
    > little immediate benefit for me

    How is $2000/year of free money of little immediate benefit to you? If you don't want it, I'll take it.

    > My solution is to construct a system that will tax
    > every officially traded good based on the physical
    > constraints of product mass, and distance
    > moved.

    Creating a whole new taxing authority that kinda-sorta-indirectly-but-not-really taxes energy use doesn't strike me as either a good idea or one that will fly any better than a lead balloon (or carbon tax) with the public. If relocalization is your goal, it might be a good policy, but that's a separate—if not entirely unrelated—issue from energy efficiency.

  2. Evan,

    May I suggest that in a tax system you (and the average Merican) want a simple, fair and transparent system that has small administration costs. By taxing fossil fuels as RR advocates you accomplish the same thing that your proposed system would do and it is far simpler, fairer and is far more transparent.

    Please give it some more thought because it is a central part to any comprehensive energy plan. Otherwise, flesh out your tax plan and talk about rates, compliance costs, who administers it, how the money is collected, what are penalties for inaccurate calculations or simple non-compliance.

    I like RR’s original plan (mostly) but I like constructive dialogue even more.

  3. frank, “How is $2000/year of free money of little immediate benefit to you? If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”

    Yup, I did consider the $2000 point, my statement was poorly worded, thanks for correcting, and that’s a lot of bike parts!

    My energy tax will impact transportation fuels, because they will be compoundly taxed during their transport. Einstein proved that mass does in fact correlate to energy. Moving heavy stuff, in fact, requires a lot of energy. The mass(energy) we currently use is temoprarily very cheap for us. If we all use less fuel, it will be cheaper for longer, and we can all be spared the petty arguments like everybody maintaining proper tire air pressure. Taxing mass is like taxing energy without pointing fingers. How much crude oil is consumed(wasted, made inefficient) to move it across half of the globe for further refining? In either tax model, I can easily replace my bike with the $2000 I will save each year. With my tax, maybe the next bike will come with some US made parts. It is not realistic or fair to tax one product, lobbyists will complain, politicians will get paid off, bipartisanship will delay it all. Taxing just gasoline may be a nice thought for us, but far from nice for the reality of most folks. There has to at least be an effort to demonstrate a benefit and some participation for each individual. Net energy efficiency is interconnected by countless unrelated factors. Is there a better, all encompassing measurement of energy efficiency that we can actually measure and change than mass and distance?

  4. From my viewpoint, we need to move to a future in which electricity drives our transport systems.
    You may be right, RR, or you may be wrong. A better way, IMHO, would be to develop the proper guidelines to compare the different technologies on an apples-to-apples basis. Rather than try to predict which technologies Uncle Sam needs to back, just put the proper, fair evaluation strategies in place and let the chips fall where they may.

    I have heard that the Hummer uses less net energy to produce than the Prius. Even if it is just propaganda, it raises a significant debate which reveals that Prius consumers may not be completely aware of the overall truth to their thoughtful and responsible consumer decision.
    Or it may just reveal Evan’s susceptibility to propaganda. Seriously, why would a Hummer require less energy to make than a Prius? And what about the energy needed during the lifetime of the vehicle? This is a pretty weak statement, unless you can explain why Hummer manufacturing is so energy efficient or why a making a Prius requires a ton of energy. Real data would be quite valuable…

    If I was an average Merican, limited to commuting singly by car, I would have an old car, be incapable of buying a newer more fuel efficient car, not making enough money to reap any idealistic tax benefits from the latest technology, and my kids would still be hungry and I would legitimately bitch at a tax directed against my current sad state of affairs.
    Crud! That is a sad state of affairs. Fortunately the average Merican is far from letting the kids go hungry, or even being stuck in an old vehicle.

    Cut the doom-and-gloom! As the last few months of vehicle sales data show, people respond to incentives. $4/gal did what no politician had the gonads to do.

    My solution is to construct a system that will tax every officially traded good based on the physical constraints of product mass, and distance moved.
    Trust Uncle Sam to get this one right? No thanks!

    And BTW, this sounds like very bad news for poor people in remote locations.

    Here’s an alternative view: How about we keep Uncle Sam from doing anything as an energy policy, based on his proven inability to get even the simple things right. Put down the ethanol, Sam!

    Sure, this means things get more unstable… I mean, exciting. Sure, oil prices will eventually go through the roof (Think Uncle Sam can stop that?). Sure we’ll get caught with our collective pants around our collective ankles.

    But when it does happen, we get more of what we’ve seen so far this year: People actually start conserving fuel. People actually start buying smaller cars. Entrepreneurs everywhere start thinking about how to get a piece of that $4/gal.

    Eventually things stabilize at a new steady-state, in spite of the best… I mean, worst, efforts of our elected officials…

    Somewhere an entrepreneur with the initials RR is making a ton of money off one of his patents, having foreseen the advent of $200/bbl…

  5. First, let me say that I have a long history of commuting to work, starting in Summer 1967, when I used to drive across the heart of Watts in Los Angeles, on the Imperial Highway, at age 17. I’ve experienced many types of California commutes: the “small town commute” (Santa Barbara, five miles to twenty miles each way, by car) the rural commute (Sierra foothills, 22 miles each way, one stop sign between home and winery) urban commute (eleven miles to the heart of San Francisco, plus LA in my youth, or twenty-four to an outlying suburb, by train, and bus, for over twenty years) and the long-distance commute by car (70 miles each way, in the heat of the Sacramento Valley).

    After forty years of driving, to jobs, and taking a bus or train (BART) for twenty years interspersed with this, I am more convinced today, than ever, of the need to simply LIMIT the mechanical speed in which all motorized non-transit vehicles can travel. Let’s limit the speed of all trucks, cars, motorcycles, to a top speed of 35 mph. When cars don’t have to have the physical strength to resist all the forces at work at 70-75 mph (note: Dodge Charger for 2009, 140 mph electronically limited, top speed, except with manual transmission, which is not limited and can reach 173 mph (SAE Magazine)) frames, brakes, glazing, bodywork…everything can be reduced in weight. Crash protection, aerodynamics, all these factors in mileage are mititgated by engineering for a lower top speed. Proof? SAE Supermileage contest (do a search). Three Thousand miles to the gallon! Oh, high school kids…only 1800 miles to the gallon! How? A top speed in the 30-40 mph range, and very low weight.

    Lighter cars from lower speeds means less energy consumed in making the cars. Instead of a V-8 engine block, and all that casting and forging, a two-cylinder engine.
    Change the oil? One quart. Tires? 100,000 miles per set. And, with cheaper initial cost. The list goes on and on, including highway construction (less weight, lower use of concrete) lower cost for the Highway Patrol (virtually no speeding enforcement) fewer accidents and deaths, lower insurance costs.
    Fewer materials in a car, by weight, means lower construction costs, and fewer barriers to entry to competing manufacturers. Vehicle prices, in real terms, would drop.

    Current vehicles can be retrofitted with “escapement” mechanisms that will limit top speed. If dedicated bus lanes give buses the option of going 70, while private vehicles only travel 35, more people will decide that bus and rail are better options. Retrofitting means the benefits start NOW instead of waiting ten years for a fleet turnover. People might opt to convert to a two-cylinder, six speed powerplant in their own existing vehicle, and probably recoup the costs in saved fuel in 18 months! Few people would notice the “deficit” for 70 percent of their driving time, which takes place at 35mph or below anyway!

    It’s time the USA society grows up with regard to travel. Heck I love to speed, drive fast. NASCAR is the most popular viewing sport in the country. But the time has come… too many people on the planet.

    In 1938, few people were exceeding 45mph while driving, yet everyone seemed to go about their business with as much happiness as today. Today’s freeways are a combination of moving art galleries (chrome wheel sets at $2000, $8000 paint jobs) portable music halls (speakers, MP3, radio) and racetrack/playgrounds. USA citizens, by and large, want to preserve this…but the rest of the world watches and emulates us, wants to emulates us. Car ownership in the USA=1.2 cars per person; India, 33 persons per car. China, right now has the same car ownership rate as the USA in 1915! What happens when China and India continue attempts to emulate “the best lifestyle” on the planet?? Well, already, more Buicks sold in China than in the USA. Rolls Royce? China is the largest market, with an average price on each RR sold at $200,000.

    Reasons for the high price of gasoline in the USA:

    1) China is subsidizing the cost of gasoline, and is consuming more fuel.
    2) Car ownership is 15x in China in 2006 compared to 1993. And growing, and demand for gasoline is increasing.
    3) More people are consuming gasoline in China.

    Unless we begin the trend of dropping personal high speed travel by vehicle, all the taxes in the USA, all the best advice to the next President about “policies” won’t matter, because two BILLION people are going to continue to emulate 110 km per hour travel, and make cars BUILT to accelerate fast, travel above speed limits, and drive around at poor performance during a run to the store to carry home a bottle of aspirin… because they want what we have!!

    There’s no way out. In the past, we had the “Luxury Liner of Low Population” in the USA, with plenty of space and rich resources relative to population size. Now we are in the “Lifeboat of High Population on Planet Earth”. No amount of “extra thinking and think tank technology” is going to make “something” come out of the physical nothing. High speed is high cost.

  6. The price mechanism is a wonderful thing. I appreciate Mr Mitchell’s plans, but jeez, how about administratabiity?
    I concur that sometimes the price mechanism misses things: Pollution, dependence on foreign suppliers (thug states), the cost to our economy of importing.
    And road taxes do not cover the cost of building and maintaining roads. U.S. roads are subsized worse than any French wine-and-brie farmer.
    For all of these reasons, another $3 a gallon tax should be tacked onto gasoline.
    That would result annual decreases in U.S. oil demand, for as many years as the eye can see, and probably a depression on world oil prices.
    The GM Volt would be the hit of the year, followed by a sucession of EV cars.

  7. I’m down with #5. We can go electric anytime we choose to. We could have done it 20,50,or even 100 years ago,when electric vehicles outsold internal combustion. Vehicles cost more,but the fuel is much cheaper. Where range is an issue,we could switch out batteries at service stations. And yeah,I’m talking old fashioned,easily re-manufactured lead acid batteries.

    If congress banned internal combustion this year,every automaker would have electric vehicles for sale next year. And just like that,all the doom and gloom over peak oil would vanish. Our trade deficit would shrink by several hundred billion per year too.

  8. “tax every officially traded good based on the physical constraints of product mass, and distance moved”…the amount of energy used in moving a product is a function not only of mass and distance, but of *how* it is moved. A product moved 1000 miles by rail or barge will use 3-4X less energy than the same product moved by truck.

    The price mechanism already takes this into account, as well as resources other than energy–human effort, cost of capital.

    An “energy saving” tax system would in real life be determined in detail by political lobbying, and would be a repeat of the corn-ethanol fiasco on a huge scale.

  9. I like the idea of one measurement of energy use such as calorie per miles that can be used with all types of engines and motors to make comparing energy efficiency across the board. This is something that we can implement today, and have a big effect on the course forward.
    The idea of another tax system to tax distance to move goods is not as simple as what mother nature does for us. To move anything requires energy based on mass and distance and mother nature is very impartial judge that can not be bribed to favor one system or another. One of the facts that seems to be forgotten is that the reason centralized mass production exists is because it is more efficient then small localized production. To the point it over comes the added cost from larger transportation costs. For example items that have a high intrinsic value verses weight ratio are made in big centralized manufacturing plants, like computer chips. But items that have a low value verses weight like soda, and bricks are usually produced in the local market. Since it is the use of carbon based energy that we have problems we should just use either a tax or a cap and trade system penalize it’s use. Let the market figure where it is best to stop using carbon based energy.

  10. I’m conflicted on the tax thing. More taxes on gas won’t help 15 cent gas from being sold in Venezuela or Iran. It won’t do much to stop conspicuous consumption either. Some people get off on lighting cigars with $100 bills. Raising prices would just encourage them to light more cigars. I like the idea of a luxury tax on gas guzzlers used to subsidize fuel misers. That would encourage manufacturers and consumers alike to move in that direction. The U.S. and Europe will be early adopters of PHEV’s in a big way imo. Eventually we’ll go all-electric,with wireless connections to the grid. By then,bio-crude and cellulol will likely replace most fossil fuels. There’ll always be a need for petro products….even if we transport without them.

  11. “Though you and I want to become crude oil independent, many hard working folks are not so far-sighted, or comfortable enough to embrace such drastic lifestyle changes. “

    This sentence, in essence saying I (the author) know better and people are good but misinformed, and if only they knew better they would behave in exactly the way that I want, is 100% pure revolutionary language. Revolutionary language is the first step to revolution, and revolution is the worst of the human experience.

    Engineer is a noble undertaking, yet it’s also useful to re-read a bit of history from time to time.

  12. Thank you all for the feedback. There are several responses which, I feel are misunderstood and valid. In summary, I have learned that my simply tabulated energy taxing ideas are too complex to be cleanly applied. (I still think it would totally kick arse if there was enough motive) With all the great information technology, law enforcement and taxation resources and budgets of the US, the IRS still makes us all groan. Harder times are coming for which it is very difficult to equally prepare everyone. It is only human to try. I’m still holding out on the metric system, and a more representative energy consumption measure than MPG, and on the negative viewpoint that the Prius is a false prophet for the already fortunate, and a battery dependent Rube Goldberg device. It’s good to know that I’m still young, and also a whippersnapper hippie punk, and that my skills on a bicycle may still be useful or even prophetable(pun intended). I now believe that my lack of talent in politics is legitimate, and that I’m an entropy anarchist at heart. It feels good to access this community, where one can get caring responses from annonymous but interested individuals.

    Cheers, work is done, it’s time for me fill up my alternative fuel (bicycle) vehicle with some low energy, non-stilled ethanol. And I have no idea what my MPG is without some serious energy unit conversions. I’m guessing, like 900 MPG?

  13. Why is everyone wanting to mandate something? Last time I checked, we still had plenty of oil.

    If we just let the price climb on it, as it naturally will, the market *will* figure out what to do next.

    I just laugh at the 35mph mandates, ethanol mandates, hybrid mandates, fuel economy mandates. All they do is create a inbalance somewhere else in the chain. Free markets can produce inbalances too, but they tend to eventually balance out, whereas governement mandates tend to never be repealed, long after the need has passed, and what we get is total distabilization of something or another only remotely related.

    Think about the speed limiting mandate. What will happen is someone will figure out how to go faster with the engine and electronics on the mandated limited car. Then state mandated trooper cars will need to go faster to catch them. The technology for this will seep back in, and we will get even faster cars.

    Mandates are crap. Sometimes I want to just quit visiting these sites, because everyone has a pet mandate they want the government to enforce. The only reason I keep coming back to see if there are any technology news updates, and to post my mandate hating vitriol (not what I’d call reason, but I am sure it’s seen that way).

  14. Evan Mitchell writes:
    YES! Solar water heating needs to get much more support, PV just isn’t as efficient and doesn’t last.

    I’ve been looking at solar water heaters, since I’m hoping to buy one at some point. I’ve noticed they have only a 10-year warranty, vs. 25-year warranties for PV panels. You can even get 15-year warranties on PV inverters.
    So while I understand the claim that PV isn’t as efficient, I don’t understand the claim that they don’t last.

    If anyone here has had a solar hot water system for at least 15 years, I’d like to hear of your experience. What kind of maintenance did you have to do? What repairs, if any, and how much did they cost? Or if you had a solar hot water system but shut it down in less than 15 years, why did you do so, and how long did it last? I’d like to know what I can expect. Thanks.

  15. Cadillac Escalade has a hybrid version now. It adds $3600 to the price and gets 21 MPG in the city. Payback time with $4 gas is 3 1/2 years. 21 in the city is damned good for an SUV that size imo.

    GM also says they’ll have 50 prototype Volts by year-end.

  16. “And I have no idea what my MPG is without some serious energy unit conversions. I’m guessing, like 900 mpg?”

    I think you are in the right ballpark. Bicyclists are said to use about 30 kcal/km to roll at a moderate pace. A car will need something like 300 – 800 kcal/km with a wide variation for type of vehicle and speed. A car with many passengers will obviously be much more efficient in terms of kcal/km per person, but still not near the range of the bicycle with single rider. The bicycle is the most efficient vehicle invented in these terms, requiring about 1/4 the energy of walking to travel at the same speed.

    (Wilson, Bicycling Science, p. 160-1.)


  17. On second thought 30 kcal/km sounds far too high for moderate effort. More like 10 kcal/km. Bicycling is efficient.

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