Gregor MacDonald - Energy, transportation, and transitions


18 Responses to “Gregor MacDonald - Energy, transportation, and transitions”

  1. se@nr says:

    I am fully onboard with the author’s push for revamping America’s rail structure, especially a high speed cross country one powered by alterna energy sources. It would be awesome to have a system set up with underground cryocooled superconducting cables as well. A trillion dollar price tag seems reasonable and with the price of oil rising inexorably, it could pay itself off in our lifetimes, but good luck getting it through congress. True, there is upkeep involved with rail, same with the roads and highways all over this country. Oil will run out sooner or later, but we are short sighted as a species, which could spell our doom.

  2. frankieboy says:

    Thanks dculberson! I’m still going to use it as a background for a few days, it makes me glad to live in a two lane road kind of town.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “if [high speed trains] were so good economically you would think you would see more of them”

    There are more of them. Spain and South Africa (where I live) spring immediately to mind.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i dream of a self-sustaining electric car that will have zero emissions and zero fuel expenses. such a vehicle will have an electric motor that will turn the crankshaft and transfer power and torque to the front wheels and a dynamo for a generator at the rear. the generator will then use the power achieved to charge the electric motor and perform electronic tasks such as drive-by-wire and off-engine air conditioning

  5. Anonymous says:

    nuclear power plants, as everyone knows, is not clean energy. because of this, i propose that the volatility of concentrated hydrogen peroxide should be harnessed to full one experiment , it was revealed that when hydrogen peroxide is kept in a small confinement in the presence of a catalyst such as rust , it expands in volume due to the production of steam, causing the confinement to explode from pressure increasing by thousand-fold.couldn’t this energy be used to drive turbines which will power generators?instead, the world relies on radioactive uranium-235 for fuel for powerplants

  6. Anonymous says:

    All of these ideas for using the remaining supply of inexpensive oil to build a public transit infrastructure in the United States are fantastic. However, in order to implement this plan the electorate has to be well informed and rational. I’m sorry to be the one to break that you.

    Politically this is impossible without an unambiguous crisis. In November the center-right Democrats are likely to lose power to the far-right Republicans, and with the public already upset about the use of borrowed money for stimulus and bailout programs, these proposals simply won’t happen. They wouldn’t happen with the current Congress, and it’s not going to get more rosy anytime soon.

  7. justinboland says:

    ^^It’s not a very controversial concept — risk is very seldom “appropriately priced” and that’s exactly why the derivatives market is so profitable and busy. The market cannot price what humans have no rational concept of to begin with…

  8. frankieboy says:

    is that an actual photograph, or has it been doctored up? Much of it makes sense, I can see how the exits and entrances work, but some of it looks too dense to be believable.

  9. bpratt says:

    I plan to read the post, but I got totally mesmerized by the image…

    for more. Like all the roads I wanted to build in the sandbox as a kid but couldn’t pull off given the limits of the medium.

  10. David Pescovitz says:

    Thanks for that link!

  11. s243a says:

    I’m curious about some of the claims. For instance the comment that risk wasn’t appropriately priced. This makes sense in general economic terms but I wonder how well prior to the disaster BP felt they mitigated the risk. What did they consider their probability of failure. What was engineered in terms of safety both in design and construction?

    Then we need to ask how do we properly mitigate the risk and what will that cost? Would a relief well be sufficient to mitigate the risk and what would have been the over all price impact on the project? Then we need to ask how high a price of oil would they need to make the relief well economically viable given some reasonable expected rate of return.

    My other question is about the economic viability of rail vs automobile. I’ve heard before some say that high speed trains require a lot of maintenance. Everyone thinks they are such a great idea but if they were so good economically you would think you would see more of them.

    Finally with regards to peak oil that is a fairly big topic so I won’t even touch it.

    • Ernunnos says:

      Everyone thinks they are such a great idea but if they were so good economically you would think you would see more of them.

      There’s a difference between present value and future value. Rail in the U.S. isn’t all that competitive today, but with the price of energy going up, it will be. However, as MacDonald points out, it takes energy to build infrastructure, so if we wait until it is needed, it’ll just become more expensive, ironically delaying the day when it breaks even. The best thing to do would be to build it before it’s needed or even competitive. But that requires foresight, another resource that’s in short supply.

      • s243a says:

        It is great to argue fore-site but government has always been bad at picking winners. That is why the free market has always done better then centrally planed economies. Unfortunately the free market doesn’t apply to transportation because it is subsidized and controlled by government.

        What government do is support fads and I think that this hiders the creative destruction of the free market in business, science, energy and transportation.

        There is a free market mechanism for foresight and it is related to the interest rate and the time value of money. The government makes this artificially low in order to stimulate growth and it results in an over investment in capital and accentuates market swings.

        Well, transportation is not controlled by the free market the government still needs to consider the time value of money as it often needs to borrow money to do large infrastructure projects. Governments typically have a lower borrowing cost then private entities and therefor should have a greater preference for future value then private entities do.

        Now with regards to fore-site if we try to pick the technology based on say the future price of oil not only are we speculating on the price of oil but we are also speculating on what technologies will win in the future. Perhaps the reason we congregate in cities is more due to specialization in labour and has nothing to do with efficiencies in the cost of living or transportation.

        In japan they have buildings which are almost cities in themselves. It is anything but cheap to live in japan. Yet people still congregate in large cities. Perhaps in the future we will see more of this and our transportation will look more like star treck style turbo lifts then the rail system we see today. This may not be cheap but the economic goals may be more about the efficiency of transportation with regards to how quickly and efficiently we move people then the cost of the transportation.

        Another alternative future scenario is perhaps the automobile will not go away and we will simply replace the energy source by something more efficient like say fusion power.

        Foresight is wonderful but the more specific our predictions about the future the more likely we are to fail. The more we try to centrally plan the more we hinder human creativity. It is not at all apparent to me that rail is the future of transportation.

    • williamaowen says:

      “This makes sense in general economic terms but I wonder how well prior to the disaster BP felt they mitigated the risk.”

      They didn’t. BP’s entire risk assessment for the site was a cheap, boilerplate copy used by every major oil producer. They didn’t concern themselves with risk period.

      They never even considered it, and due to the egregious negligence in the regulating bodies, they didn’t have to consider it. BP was making nearly $61,000,000 a day before the spill. A sonic-trigger backup blowout preventer would have cost them $500,000 extra.

      Slowly but surely the inevitability of risk-related pricing is going to make its way into the energy market. Whether it is through a sudden catastrophe like BP’s deepwater horizon spill, or through the slow accumulation of scientific studies and disease cluster analysis that determines coal fired power plants are to blame for increased asthma rates

      • s243a says:

        Thanks for the info on BP’s negligence. I haven’t been following the news that closely lately. If that is all that additional safety would have cost then clearly this is simply a case of negligence and bad engineering and has nothing to do with mispricing risk. Clearly such a safety measure would have had a negligible impact on the return of the well.

        This disaster to me is worse then a nuclear disaster and should have the same level of risk mitigation as nuclear power plants provide.

    • AnthonyC says:

      2 things.
      First, mis-pricing risk is not just about what BP thought the likelihood of failure was, but rather what they felt the cost of failure would be. They would have only accounted for those costs they believed would accrue to them specifically. For an accidental spill (not due to criminal negligence) their liability is capped at $75 million. That is mis-priced risk, enforced by legislation. BP ought to be legally responsible also for the risks they are forcing others to incur without compensation- all the people living on the gulf coast, for example.

      Second, “Everyone thinks they are such a great idea but if they were so good economically you would think you would see more of them,” if a self-defeating argument. Every new technology is expensive (read: not so good economically) until it is sufficiently developed and deployed. So at first only a few early adopters build them, and many of these experiments will flop (that’s how research works). So then, finally, we reach a point where the technology is viable- yay! Only, all the people who subscribe to your view isnist that because it hasn’t worked on a big scale before, it never can because of some unspecified inherent problem.

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