The Importance of Decarbonizing Transport

While researching my previous post about nuclear power, I found various sources about the construction costs of renewable electricity. They all point to the same conclusion: the installation costs of solar and wind power took a nosedive in the 2010s. By now they are down to 1-1.50 per watt for onshore wind, 1.50-2.50 per watt for offshore wind (PDF-p. 24) and around $1.10 per watt for utility-scale solar power (PDF-pp. 7, 50-51). The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for onshore wind and solar power is, depending on source, 4-7 cents per kWh (see Fraunhofer, Lazard, IRENA), at which point it’s cheaper than new coal and gas without subsidies or carbon taxes and cheaper than existing coal and gas with mild carbon taxes. Intermittency is still an issue, but at continental scale it is much more of an irritant than a serious impediment. Decarbonization of electricity is substantially a solved problem.

The problem is that decarbonization of transportation is not a solved problem.

The world of 2020 is not that of 2000. The greenhouse gas inventory of 2020 is not that of 2000. In developed countries, electricity is down, and transportation is up or at best flat. In developing ones (i.e. China and India) the situation is different, but there too there’s growing public concern with coal power pollution, to the point that one of the premier sites for information about air pollution levels, AQICN, is Beijing-based. Nonetheless, cars remain aspirational in those countries, despite high levels of investment in urban and intercity rail transportation (periodic reminder: about two-thirds of global high-speed rail ridership is in China).

The problem with transportation is cars.

Cars are not getting better. There’s a growing but very small share of the market for new cars that is electric; so far production costs remain high, and there are real long-term issues with rare earth metals used in the batteries. Costs are inching down, but it’s firmly in “more research is needed” territory. And meanwhile, in the carbon tax-free developed world (i.e. the US) the vast majority of cars that are not electric are getting bigger and less fuel-efficient. American transportation emissions peaked in the mid-2000s and fell as fuel prices rose, but now that fuel is cheap they’re rising, faster than population (source, PDF-p. 32).

The problem is partly, but not only, the United States.

Whatever historical causes made Americans this way, American culture of the early 21st century is still one that thinks it’s normal to want every American to have an SUV and deviant to want every American to have an apartment in a big city with a good subway system. This mentality cuts across classes, parties, subcultures, and states, and was recently affirmed in California, particularly Los Angeles. Decarbonizing solutions on the road that may be popular in segments of the tech industry, like electric cars and mobility as a service, are still brushing against a culture that equates the size of one’s car and engine with one’s moral worth. One of two things will happen: this culture will vanish, or hundreds of millions of people in countries Americans can’t find on a map will be inundated.

But it’s not just the United States.

Public transportation usage in Europe is increasing, unlike in the United States – and it’s increasing from an already nontrivial base. But it’s not increasing fast enough. The same motorist culture of the United States exists in a more attenuated form here. There are high fuel taxes and they help a lot – SUVs and pickup trucks are rare, and vehicle-km per capita are maybe half what they are in the US – but the difference between greenhouse gas emissions of 17 and 8 metric tons-CO2 per capita is one of whether catastrophic climate change will happen soon or shortly later.

It’s a priority for Europe specifically, precisely because it’s in uncharted territory.

The United States needs to learn to imitate and get from 17 to 8 on its way to 0, but Europe needs to get from 8 to 0 and to figure out how to do so. Switzerland and the Netherlands are already at the forefront of improving mainline rail, and yet have widespread auto usage in local as well as interregional travel.

There are a number of headwinds to the replacement of cars with public transportation, all of which are politically or technically nontrivial in ways that mass installation of solar and wind power isn’t:

  1. Public transport is the most convenient in large cities and least convenient in rural areas, but modern nationalism holds the rural to be more authentic and moral. Thus, when rural motorists riot the state is paralyzed with inaction and the media urges understanding of populist anger at elites, whereas when urbanites riot the state immediately engages in mass arrests and the media urges law and order.
  2. The pace of urban redevelopment is too low, thanks to local NIMBYism, making it hard for people to live in cities where car-free living is already convenient. Local housing activism always focuses on people already present; Berlin passed a new rent control law that is projected to reduce investment by 25%. Even Paris, which is building more housing, is doing so almost exclusively in the suburbs and not in the city proper.
  3. Local notables tend to drive even controlling for income and social class. One does not become a local notable by working at a city center office with people from many neighborhoods, many of whom are recent migrants to the city, but by staying within one neighborhood and interacting with old-timers. The latter kind of economic and social network is less convenient to travel by train. Thus, the loudest voices in a local discussion are against seizing space from cars and giving it to pedestrians, cyclists, buses, or trams.
  4. At low levels of public investment, the car will predominate, for two reasons. First, some state action is needed to give buses priority on roads. Second, public transportation has more moving parts that must be integrated – fares, schedules, infrastructure, equipment, development. This makes fiscal austerity a drag on the ability of a developed society to demotorize unless this austerity specifically takes the form of very high taxes on cars and fuel.
  5. A political process that slows down investment in order to mollify NIMBY opposition makes it very hard to shift priorities on the ground. In this sense, the freeway revolts and the changes they led to are the best thing that ever happened to car culture, even more than the freeways themselves; in the American context, the revolts happened largely only when the freeways intruded on middle-class neighborhoods.

These headwinds are phrased politically, but all have various technical components, like construction costs for new rail lines, public transport network design, interagency cooperation issues that are too far removed from mass politics to be truly political, etc. Is the problem solvable? Most likely, yes. It’s not only in the biggest cities in the world that public transport usage is high; getting Stockholm, Vienna, Zurich, and so on to demotorize is within the realm of possibility, and getting other cities to have what those cities have is as well.

But “within the realm of possibility” is not a statement of utmost confidence. It’s a difficult program, one where failure is regrettably an option. Every aspect is hard: convincing governments that don’t like spending money on mobile people to invest more in rail, raising taxes on fuel and on cars, building more housing in the cities, reclaiming street space from cars, improving the quality of public transport service, improving connections between lines. It all takes money, and though the required subsidies may well fall with better technology and higher usage, the most optimistic view is that public transportation now is like wind and solar power in 2010, when they was still an economic gamble, and not what they are today that the gamble is paying off.

135 comments

  1. sandorzoo

    The electric car winning over gasoline is inevitable at this point. The market share of electric cars is still low in absolute terms, but growing at a Moore’s Law-like speed:

    There’s a reason that Tesla is worth more than Ford and GM combined. Investors are sometimes wrong, but they aren’t *that* stupid.

    The fall in battery costs has been equally dramatic:

    Production is ramping up exponentially:

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4289626-look-top-5-lithium-ion-battery-manufacturers-in-2019

    And lithium-ion pack costs are not very sensitive to commodity prices:

    https://about.bnef.com/blog/behind-scenes-take-lithium-ion-battery-prices/

    • Alon Levy

      The main reason Tesla is worth so much while losing money on making cars (more than 100% of its profits come from emissions trading) is marketing. EVs are expensive, and Tesla sells them as luxury cars (and again, loses money on that).

      And re growth in battery power, battery buses in China stalled after the Shenzhen conversion.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, but they’re still selling at elevated prices and losing money. And no, it’s not about future growth expectations – BYD is bigger and actually profitable and has a market cap of around US$20 billion. It comes from the same place that nonprofits like WeWork and Uber (whoever says SF tech moguls don’t give money to nonprofits…) get positive press through marketing and get insanely high valuations.

          • Eric

            I do think it’s about future growth expectations. The “first mover advantage” in tech is gigantic and companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon end up dominating whole market sectors just because they were first. Investing in a new tech company is a big gamble because very few succeed in that way, but those which do, earn their investors huge amounts of money. 10-20 year ago many said that Google and Apple stock was overvalued, but both went on to more than justify their valuation. Uber clearly fits into this category too, because if it were the first to develop self-driving cars, it could have become the world’s primary transportation provider. WeWork’s potential path to profit was less clear, but one dumb investment does not mean that tech investing in general is dumb.

            As for Tesla – the combination of being run by Musk (who has a history of remarkable successes in Paypal and SpaceX), and Tesla’s solid though not dazzling performance until now, causes investors to think it too has a significant chance of eventually dominating its market sector. So its high market cap is not surprising.

          • michaelrjames

            Eric, the thing is that EVs are nothing like FB, Google, Amazon in that there is no natural “winner takes all” market. All the other big (much bigger) auto majors will compete with Tesla (and self-driving or any form of auto). At best Tesla might establish itself as a luxe marque but there is no good reason why it is going to be dominant or necessarily a very big player. They may have established the concept in the minds of investors (ie. marketing as Alon said) though I think it is more that the early VC investors just want to reach that point where they can cash in without panicking the broader market. That looks optimistic but who knows? That’s stockmarket psychology not technology.

      • adirondacker12800

        Were expensive. If I remember correctly the estimate is that to make electric cars purchase-price competitive with internal combustion engine cars the batteries have to be $100 a kilowatt hour. 176 x 0.82 is 149, 149 x 0.82 is 122 and 122 x 0.82 is 97. The 2022 models will be cost competitive. Especially for people who look at total cost of ownership, not just how big the payment is. We weren’t able to find an electric car a year ago. We settled for a Plug-In Prius. 70-80 MPG on days when we “use up” the charge and 160 when we don’t.
        Five years ago the wild eyed optimists were pointing out that electric car production and sales were doubling every two years. Go ahead, double something every two years until you get to 128% of sales.. ….The problem is building battery plants fast enough.

        • Onux

          For once I agree with Adirondacker. For Alon to claim that decarbonized electricity is solved because of an exponential drop in solar/wind power prices but that decarbonized transportation is not because of cars despite a similar drop in electric battery prices is inconsistent logic.

          Note both sides of the coin have issues. For electricity it is load factor in different environments and resulting LCOE not price per watt that matters, plus the intermittency/storage issue. For electric cars it is storage again (battery production, lifespan, recycling) plus the question of how to double the electric grid if all energy from oil now comes from electricity. But both are trending positive.

          • adirondacker12800

            Which ones haven’t dropped in price? It’s tricky to determine because a few years ago most electrics were were high end luxury cars. Then ferret out things like has the range increased even though the price hasn’t dropped much. Most models can’t be compared over many years because they weren’t being made.

            From The Blue Book: The 2018 Nissan Leaf S is priced at $29,990, $690 lower than the model it replaces even though it has a longer range, more power and the ePedal technology.

            The motorheads complain that the Leaf’s battery doesn’t have a thermal management system and you can only fast charge it once a day. Why I would have to fast charge it more than once a day is a mystery to me because I don’t drive that far in one day. The older Leafs, I would want to drive far in them because I’d have to stop and charge every hour.

            Or decide on a comparable internal combustion car to compare it with. That can be difficult because ICE cars don’t have ludicrous mode. The electric cars don’t have transmission service intervals because they don’t have transmissions. It gets tricky.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s debatable if you need twice the grid. If I’m charging the car, most days, from the PV over it it doesn’t need any grid. Or the house battery from the panels in the backyard. Assuming that people charge the car in the dead of night when demand is low, I’ve seen that New Zealand doesn’t have any problems with all of the cars being electric. And that it’s not a problem in the U.K until it’s 70 percent of the fleet. The NREL did a study, which I can’t find. The East Coast could run on the wind power reasonably available. It needs more transmission. Throw in some PV and it doesn’t need as much transmission. Throw in storage, it needs transmission upgrades but it needs those upgrades for other reasons. … It not going to be doubling the grid. It doesn’t need it all at once either. and we’ve faced a bigger increase in demand. When air conditioning got cheap.

          • Onux

            But there will be. The price of solar panels dropped 90% between 1975 and 1985, but installation didn’t take off for another 25 years until another price drop around 2010 made solar competitive.
            https://images.app.goo.gl/SoQwu8TbfnRQCiqeA

            Someone in the mid 2000’s could have argued that solar had no future because after decades of development it was still more expensive than fossil with minuscule deployment and they would have been totally correct on the evidence – until they weren’t. Arguments about the cost and market share of electric cars will look the same in hindsight.

          • Alon Levy

            People in the late 2000s did make that argument, going by the stagnation in PV cell prices in the previous few years. But of note,

            1. What took off the most last decade was not solar but wind.
            2. The form of solar that was most pushed for by green advocates (hi), rooftop PV, remains a lot more expensive than utility-scale solar, and the gap has increased.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I did the maths and reckoned a VW eGolf would break even over a Golf over ~100k miles. It’s a lot but less than the life of the vehicle.

            And that ignores the fact that the eGolf should last longer as it’s mechanically simpler.

          • Tonami Playman

            The price of electric cars may seem stagnant, but like adirondacker12800 said, they keep the price the same but increase the features. We’re seeing the battery price reduction in the form of range increases with every generation while price remains constant or in some cases less. Just look at this price comparison of the 2011 and 2019 Nissan Leaf. Price is $32,780 and $29,990 and Range is 73miles and 150miles respectively. The 2019 is 8.5% cheaper, yet has 105% greater range plus additional amenities like Pro-Pilot driver assistance as standard.

          • Onux

            1. The cost vs. installed power graph for wind looks the same as solar: exponential decline of cost followed by exponential rise of power after a threshold was crossed (although the wind tipping point was around 2005, not 2010) https://3ohkdk3zdzcq1dul50oqjvvf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Cost-of-wind-gen-power-and-cap.jpg
            2. This is a non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter if the solar is rooftop or utility, the point is that a technology with seemingly no penetration saw sudden and rapid adoption after the price of underlying technology reached an inflection point. The same will occur with electric cars vis-a-vis the cost of their batteries.

      • michaelrjames

        You’re right about Tesla being just like Uber, Lyft or WeWork. It’s the Silicone Valley VC crowd who keep its balloon inflated because they have sunk so much into it (and complicated cross-holdings with other Musk companies) and refuse to see it fail.
        But that doesn’t mean it won’t succeed, eventually.
        I’ve often thought Tesla will be bought out (rescued) by one of the other auto majors, though obviously only after/if its stockprice collapses–when the money tap is turned off. The story the media keep churning out is that Tesla is leaving the other auto companies in the dust but the reality is that, just like Uber, this is not a winner-takes-all or monopoly market. Tesla want to be like, but cannot be, the Apple of the car world. And the others have their projects but aren’t going to bet the company on such things until the economics are more favourable. I’m interested to see how the MiniCooperSE fares, released in January, and very affordable, at least for the hipsters who buy MiniCoopers. It may even be a bit of loss-leader for BMW and carried by the sales of regular Minis (which sell about the same as Teslas, about 400k pa). Notably the SE doesn’t have anything like the range of Teslas, under 200km compared to ≈600km, but then its target market is city driving.

      • Jason

        ??? That is such a misleading statement.

        Here are Tesla’s financials:
        https://ir.tesla.com/static-files/b3cf7f5e-546a-4a65-9888-c928b914b529

        Yes, the credits made Tesla profitable, but that’s missing the forest for the trees. No, Tesla does not make most of its revenue from selling credits, which, at < $200M / quarter only account for < 3% of its revenue. Tesla is a real car company that makes most of its revenue from actually selling cars. The credits are just icing on the cake. They allow Tesla to "lose" a little bit of money on the cars by spending more in capex, aggressively expanding production for a product so popular that demand outstrips supply.

    • Etienne

      Not sure what justifies this statement: “at continental scale it is much more of an irritant than a serious impediment”. If anything, the “continent scale” has proven to be inexistant (at least in Europe) and power density of wind and solar is ridiculously low. Only one significant country has decarbonized electricity : France, thanks to and only to nuclear power (which is currently being sabotaged by the greens).

      And this is for electricity only (1/3 of energy). Decarbonizing transport, i.e. shifting transport energy to electricity production cannot and will not be achieved by the so-called renewables.

      Nuclear power is the only realistic solution. But because it is rejected, it won’t happen. Money will continue to be wasted on renewables and decarbonization of transportation AND electricity just won’t happen.

      The energiewende catastrophe is the blatant proof of all that.

      • Alon Levy

        Have you seen where Germany’s carbon-free share of electric power generation was last year? Or Denmark’s?

        Nuclear power isn’t any more relevant to transportation than renewables are, so I’m not sure why you’re trying to bring it up in that context.

        And the greens in France are completely irrelevant. Rejoice! EELV has no power whatsoever (it’s also against LGVs…) and Macron is extending the lifespan of existing nuclear plants.

        • michaelrjames

          Nuclear power isn’t any more relevant to transportation than renewables are, so I’m not sure why you’re trying to bring it up in that context.

          That is correct.
          However nuclear does provide an advantage in having a lot of excess power output at night which is when most EV will be recharged. This will probably be regulated to avoid too much negative impact on grids, during peak hours, which won’t be able to cope with the demand, especially as they will be simultaneously struggling in the transition to renewables.

          • Alon Levy

            Any mode that works at night and isn’t great at quick modifications of power drawn works well with overnight charging; I don’t think there’s a difference between nuclear and wind power there.

      • adirondacker12800

        Cover my parking space at work with PV it recharges my commute in a 3 hours or less. Saturdays and Sundays it can be recharging the shipping container sized battery that keeps the lights on in my office at the peak of the peak in the late afternoon. Stinking hot spells and bitterly cold spells only last a few days. If I have a car with a range of a week of commuting, when that happens the PV can run the increased HVAC demand.

          • adirondacker12800

            The people who live in those apartments now, almost all of them have electricity. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.

      • Brian Stanke

        Alon, 50% annual compound growth rate for six years in a row is not weak.

        Free cash flow over the last year, especially using twelve trailing months, tells the tale of Tesla’s finance turnaround.

        Important point: all car companies lose money selling new cars. Legacy companies make Most or more than 100% of their profit from replacement parts. Tesla instead sells credits and software (driver assist, upgrades, etc.). Legacy auto companies have no idea what do do with software. That’s why most will end up like Nokia.

        On the main point EV sales increased 79%+ in Europe last year. It’s happening.
        http://ev-sales.blogspot.com/2020/01/europe-december-2019.html?m=1

  2. Coridon Henshaw

    The reality of American politics is that the USA will never, ever, successfully implement a carbon reduction policy. There are enough people in the electorally significant states to form a blocking minority against carbon reduction and many of these “people” now regard increasing carbon emissions to be a personal duty. The Americans will continue along the same path even after California is burned to the ground and New York City is under water — in part because the pro-carbon “people” in electorally dominant places like Kentucky, Arizona, and Texas, would consider losing California and NYC a good outcome.

    It’s also even odds whether the Americans will have sufficiently large internal problems that carbon emissions will be off the priority list. The last stages of the American slide from managed democracy to naked ethnonationlist authoritarianism may bring with them the kind of instability and/or violence that will make environmental concerns irrelevant.

    If there is any prospect of avoiding a carbon catastrophe then the rest of the world will need to make up for American emissions by going beyond zero carbon to net negative. This probably isn’t possible technically much less politically. The average European won’t be particularly willing to spend public money to undo damage caused by American dereliction of duty.

    Unless geoengineering actually works, we’re so F’ed that there’s no point in worrying about carbon management because the political ability to keep everyone reading this from experiencing the end of technological civilization just doesn’t exist.

    There’s a reason the suicide rate among climate scientists is so high.

    • Alon Levy

      You know Texas is heavily investing in wind power, right? It’s ahead of Germany in wind power production per capita, and only somewhat behind in wind as a share of the electric mix (Texans consume may more electricity per capita than Germans).

      • Benjamin Turon

        Even by Trump supporting “red-neck” relatives are working on building wind turbines in Upstate NY — lol…

      • michaelrjames

        Texans consume may more electricity per capita than Germans.

        Texans consume more than many other Americans!
        David Owen:

        From Green Metropolis (p17).
        New York city residents, with an average of 4,696 kilowatt-hours per household per year already consume less electricity than the residents of any other part of the country. The average Dallas household, by contrast, uses 16,116 kilowatt-hours, more than three times as much. (ref 19).

        It was a Texan, GW Bush, who said “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.”
        But nature doesn’t negotiate.

      • Eric

        I looked at Google Maps of West Texas once a few years ago. About 10% of the farmland there had wind turbines spaced periodically across it (the owners who chose to install them so far). At the same time, about 10% of Texas’ electricity production came from wind. We can all do the math. Of course, this is intermittent power so it also needs baseline load to back it up.

        • michaelrjames

          Yes, Texas is doing ok. Just a pity they didn’t deploy the cheapest kind of power there is: conservation!
          In 2017-18 new connections to the grid in Texas included 2,000 MW of solar and 8,700 MW from wind generation while they decommissioned 4,367 MW of coal-fired generation. They also built several GW of gas-fired gen too.
          And heck, they’re trying to build a HSR too! Well, the state is purple trending blue:-)

          • adirondacker12800

            Call it cheaper, Everyone loves cheaper. Neighbor mentioned that the hardware store had compact fluorescent “bulbs” on half price sale. 60 watt equivalent CFLs use 4 watts more than LEDs. 4 watts over a 10,000 hour lifetime is “thanks, no I don’t want free compact fluorescent lights, they cost too much run. Thank you for asking.”

          • IAN! Mitchell

            Texas is an energy superpower, in no small part due to our position as a wind superpower.

            We haven’t elected a democrat to statewide office since 1994. That’s unlikely to change before 2024.

          • Alon Levy

            Fuck Beto and fuck Julian Castro and fuck every other politician who thinks running for Senate is beneath their dignity.

      • electricangel

        Alon, thanks for not joining the demonization party that is American politics by pointing this out. New York does things Texas could learn from, and Texas New York. Engaging in a two-minutes-hate serves no one’s interests. This even though I’m pretty sure your politics are represented only inAustin in Texas.

        • keaswaran

          It’s not only Austin. All the big cities are big cities, and Houston has proven that it’s willing to vote for lesbians and black men (more so than Austin). And of course the city in Texas that famously did the most to decarbonize its electricity source is Republican-voting Georgetown, 45 minutes drive north of Austin.

      • Coridon Henshaw

        I’d expect Texas isn’t investing in wind as a specific policy to reduce carbon emissions. They’re doing it because it’s cost effective. That works for grid power but doesn’t work for transport decarbonization because there’s no conventional business case for it. Effective transport decarbonization will require an explicit policy to reduce carbon emissions, and that’s a bridge too far for Texas.

        I’m not clear on what point you’re making by comparing per capita electricity use between Texas and Germany. Texas energy use will be heavily skewed towards electricity because Texas is an air conditioning climate. Comparing total energy used for space conditioning (Germany for heat, Texas for cooling) is probably more of an apples to apples comparison.

        • adirondacker12800

          Just like they have no problem with cheap wind power they won’t have any problem with cheap electric pickup trucks and SUVs. The go zooooom real good. The can charge them overnight, with cheap wind, when cooling demand drops.

      • Herbert

        Texas is also trending blue. If not 2020 then 2024 or 2028 can be the year it elects a democratic slate of presidential electors…

    • overnight.rains 🏳️‍🌈 (@OvernightRains)

      California catching on fire and NYC flooding are both pretty good ways to turn Wyoming and North Dakota blue. Not because the native populations of those states will respond positively, but because their populations are so tiny, adding the population of a few, relatively small, flood-prone cities from east of 95 in North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, or New Jersey would go a long way towards turning those states blue.

      Although I was furious to see all the straight, white male liberals on Twitter last week whining about millennials’ housing concerns because housing is cheap in Charlotte or Columbus (completely erasing queer people and people of color who have damn good reasons not to buy a house in a state where it was illegal to be gay just a little over a decade ago, and where they can still be killed for being in the wrong neighborhood at night…), a few democratic migrations probably could wipe out some republican state governments. I’m never going back home, but I would gladly fund a red state colonization scheme.

      • adirondacker12800

        There already is a colonization scheme. All those people arriving in the Sunbelt came from somewhere.

      • Coridon Henshaw

        Conservative elites only support democracy as long as it legitimates their power. If there is any serious prospect of red states turning blue due to an influx of climate refugees from blue areas, red state elites will make absolutely sure that climate refugees can’t migrate there or can’t vote when they do. If internally displaced Democrats start turning up in places like Kentucky, they’re going to be treated the way the GOP treats Latinos. The US is already past the tipping point towards something very ugly and mass migration of Democrats into conservative bastions will make things worse not better.

          • michaelrjames

            Right. But that reflects growth of the Washington area, where the sprawl has grown so big it has spilled over into northern Virginia and its low(er) property prices. So a slightly different phenom, if similar outcome.

            Also, the effect of this migration to red states may not be as great as imagined. Because of assortative aggregation, ie. the types of New Yorkers etc most likely to go to Texas are probably not deep-blue to begin with. There is also a fairly powerful local culture effect, especially in this direction (liberal to illiberal). The narrow outlook, the selfish concerns, reality-denial and brainless patriotism tends to give permission to those in the same culture to behave the same way, especially when the opposite behaviour is often severely punished (social blacklisting etc, or in my case as you said, lined up against a wall and shot). Depressing but undeniable. For example, it’s the way evangelical Christianity has become such a social force.

          • Alon Levy

            I would not characterize Northern Virginia as “low property prices.” Fairfax and Loudoun Counties are rich, educated, and fairly NIMBY, although one of the state’s Democrats is trying to party-polarize things to get Democrats to be more YIMBY. The migration to Virginia is that of educated professionals, who bring middle-class liberal politics with them – it’s not like the retirees in Florida, who bring retiree politics with them.

          • Herbert

            Evangelical Christianity is a paper tiger. Americans in polls give higher church attendance figures than can be measured in churches themselves. And Trump won nomination without the evangelical vote – Mormons still don’t like him…

          • adirondacker12800

            The blue counties in Florida are the ones retirees, retire to.

          • adirondacker12800

            WIkipedia has demographic data for counties in most cases. You don’t have to speculate.
            Polk county had a population of 483,924 in 2000 and was estimated to be 708,009 in 2018. Grew by 225k.
            Miami-Dade had 2,253,362 in 2000 and was estimated to be 2,761,581. Grew by 508k. You wanna do Broward and Palm Beach counties?

          • jcranmer

            Hampton Roads is also turning bluer–which is rather notable, given the very heavy military presence in the area (it’s the most important base for the US Navy). Admittedly, that may be more to dissatisfaction with the Republicans in Virginia (dimissing the special session for gun control after the Virginia Beach shooting was not a good idea) than actually having more liberal beliefs.

  3. Korakys

    “there are real long-term issues with rare earth metals used in the batteries”

    I think you are confusing rare earth elements, which are used in electric motors, with cobalt, which is used in batteries?

    Rare Earth elements are literally that: rare elements found in mud (if I remember correctly), while elements like cobalt and lithium are metals that by a certain definition might be classified as rare. I’m not aware of any major problems with Rare Earth elements.

    • michaelrjames

      Some people claim there will be lithium supply issues but it seems unlikely. Lithium is not a rare element but of course it is availability in relatively pure form that is important. The Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia are the biggest lithium supplies in the world and they haven’t begun to mine it. At the moment none is recycled from old batteries and that will almost certainly change though, as usual, it will probably need to be mandated. This will happen in 5 to ten years as the large-scale li-ion batteries need replacing. And all lithium deposits derive from the 230 billion tonnes in seawater which can be ‘mined’ directly.

      Lithium is not a rare-earth metal, though they too are not rare. However suitably enriched deposits or rare-earths are less common, and the worst aspect of their mining is that there is a lot of nasty waste because of presence of other things in the deposits. This is how China came to monopolise the market–because of lack of safety in its mining. The biggest non-Chinese rare-earth miner is Lynas of Australia, but while the deposits are in Australia they built the processing plant in Malaysia possibly because of plentiful water. But many knew the real reason was the then-politicians looking the other way regarding the waste stream in vast tailings dams etc. The only American mine in California was closed a long time ago. Lynas has been forced by the current Malaysian government to relocate the processing plant back to Australia, and very recently the American military (!) has invested in Lynas to try to make a non-Chinese plant viable (needed for most hi-tech military operations but this is just a mechanism for the US government to subsidise it), and so a new plant will also be built in the US (using Australian ore).

  4. Diego Beghin

    European SUVs are nothing like the actual trucks Americans drive, but new cars sold in Europe are getting bigger*. I remember a German car manufacturer complaining that parking spots are too tight and saying that garages need to adapt to the new size of vehicles. There’s been little political pushback on the rise of SUVs so far.

    At low levels of public investment, the car will predominate

    This is a big problem as many developing countries don’t have what it takes to properly invest in transit. Of course some countries, like China, are able to invest in transit, but others are more like Brazil. So I sure hope electric cars end up being an alright solution.

    *see here and the linked article:

  5. Lee Ratner

    Politicians are basically going to have to punish Americans out of their cars and sprawling suburbs. I do not believe that there is any political will for this because politicians want to be re-elected rather than go down in defeat. We Americans made a distinct choice at all levels to embrace the car and suburbia more than any other wealthy country, although the other Anglophone countries including the UK and South Africa came close. Even then they still invested more in transit than Americans did, where we basically ignored it. Even with building a lot of light rail systems, some of them rather comprehensive, Americans like to drive everywhere because of decades of path dependence and our perception of ourselves as a free wheeling dealing people that go where we please.

    • Eric

      A partial solution is simply to remove zoning restrictions in big cities – which doesn’t “punish” anyone. That will cause many more Americans to move to large transit-oriented cities (where the jobs are) and thus to take transit.

      Light rail in mid-sized US cities is unpopular not because of “path dependence” and “perception”, but because it is generally built in very low-density areas where it is the most convenient method for very few trips.

      • Lee Ratner

        New York, Chicago, and Boston are the only three major cities that can count as transit oriented. San Francisco might be transit oriented in SF itself, and maybe even Berkeley-Oakland to an extent, but is generally still a very car oriented place by global standards. Nearly every other city is car oriented regardless of zoning and how it effects density, even if they have impressive light rail systems by American standards.

        • Eric

          A lot more people could fit into the Northeast Corridor, LA, SF, Seattle areas if zoning there were liberalized. Like tens of millions more. Not only would these people be using transit, but they would normalize transit usage for other Americans in contact with them.

          • Lee Ratner

            According to my Facebook feed, people stood around for hours at Penn Station yesterday because NJ Transit forgot their train. Transit in places in the United States is a big mess. A lot of basic maintenance work needs to be done. Americans seem unwilling to pay for this. So I think even if we liberalize zoning, many Americans would still drive a lot in those areas. Los Angeles barely made a dent in LA’s car culture despite a lot of investment in buses, heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail. Americans seemed to have forgotten how to run transit agencies and don’t want to outsource it.

          • adirondacker12800

            NJTransit is in a mess because the last governor didn’t spend any money on it for eight years. They whine about it but that’s what they voted for. Too bad.
            Your facebook feed has something askew. If it was one train they could have squeezed onto the next train. and the ones that didn’t squeeze onto to that one, the next one. Which at the afternoon peak is less than “hours”. If something happened that delayed more than a few things there may have been unusual amounts of people standing around but it wasn’t the same people.

          • adirondacker12800

            Apparently the one they thought was in the yard wasn’t in Penn Station. or the people stuck on it could have gotten off it. If there is no power in one of the tunnels they have to fall back to the single track schedule which is six trains an hour each way, in clumps. you do realize that at the peak of the peak it’s 23 trains an hour going to different destinations? 46 minus 12 is a lot of people milling about. That don’t have much of a choice because any of the alternatives, if there is one, are at capacity too. It’s not “their” train. It’s what they voted for, too bad,

          • Herbert

            Nuremberg subway has higher ridership than Los Angeles metro…

  6. Eric

    As for solar power, even solar advocates admit that “We are not far away from hearing about not being able to add more solar unless more storage is added to the grid as well.” (source) The same limit will be reached with wind. So the prices for solar/wind without storage have little significance to decarbonization.

    • Tonami Playman

      Battery storage is getting to the point where the cost of solar plus battery is becoming economically viable. The 13MW, 52MWh Tesla solar plus battery installation in Hawaii is selling electricity at 13.9 US Cents/kWh. https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1112800_teslas-solar-and-battery-project-in-hawaii-we-do-the-math
      The Gaildorf Wind plus pumped hydro storage installation in Germany is selling electricity at €0.079/kWh or 8.8 US Cents/kWh.
      https://www.mbrenewables.com/en/pilot-project/
      The Gaildorf installation is at the higher end of the IRENA LCOE range of 4-7 cents/kWh for Solar or Wind without storage. The Tesla solar plus battery is double that, but considering it was installed in 2017 and cost of batteries and solar have dropped further, Solar/Wind plus battery or distributed pumped storage will become just as cheap and even cheaper than coal or nuclear or natural gas.

      Remember because of the integrated storage, these two systems are considered as baseload.

      • michaelrjames

        The problem with those comparisons is that in ten years you’ll have to buy a completely new battery installation. The PHES at Gaildorf will be going strong at least three times longer than that. And you cite the rate the town of Gaildorf is selling it to the grid, ie. they are making a profit. The Germans paid more for their setup but they are no fools, not penny-wise pound-foolish like so many Anglos. Australia has the highest per capita installation of solar in the world (mostly as private rooftops) but as it ages–much is approaching a decade old–it turns out a lot of it was cheap crap and is being junked (and typically we don’t have any recycling provision so it is going to burial grounds), often many years before its so-called rated lifespan and warranties. Batteries are not as bad but is ten years the horizon of most people? You may also need to pay for your old crap to be safely recycled instead of dumped in landfill (or shipped back to China).

        This kind of PHES has a much longer track record than solar-PV. Many big hydro schemes were fitted with some PHES capacity when they were first built, example Snowy (“1.0”) Tumut-3 opened in 1973 with 1500MW generator of which 600MW was PHES (150m head; feasible 1.3TWh storage). The only problem with older installations is they had fixed turbines which results in poor efficiency, often 35-40% roundtrip losses. Some are getting replaced with modern variable-speed turbines to achieve <20% roundtrip losses.
        The Rance tidal power station (250MW nameplate, av. 54MW delivered) has been operating non-stop since 1966, producing zero-carbon electricity at today's price of €0.12/kWh. It is modest at about 500GWh. I seem to recall it is getting a turbine upgrade. Well, after almost 60 years service it has earned a facelift.

        • Tonami Playman

          Yeah I do agree with the pumped hydro being way more reliable. Speaking of Solar plus pumped storage, A new project just completed procurement of solar plus storage at a range of 6.9US cents/kWh to 9.7US cents/kWh for 1.6GW with a 6hr storage, so about 9.6GWh. The contracts were split between 2 bidders. 900MW for pumped Hydro and 300MW of batteries, so a raito of 3:1 Pumped hydro to Solar.
          https://www.pv-magazine-india.com/2020/01/31/seci-concludes-worlds-largest-renewable-plus-storage-based-assured-supply-tender-at-rs-4-04-kwh-fixed-for-25-years/

        • adirondacker12800

          The batteries don’t stop working at ten years and one day. They just don’t work as well as they did when they were new.

          • michaelrjames

            You’re right. Plenty of individual cells have failed well before the warrantied performance period. And surely you have noticed with any of your Li-ion battery devices, that once a certain failure rate–as measured by charge holding etc–is reached, deterioration speeds up.

            It is quite remarkable what they have achieved with a chemistry that really doesn’t like deep cycling each day, but while it can be justified for mobile applications, including cars that have an average useful “first” life in the rich west of roughly equivalent to the battery life, they really don’t work for more demanding applications such as grid storage.

          • Herbert

            So use lead acid batteries. They’re cheap as can be, their weight and power density don’t matter in stationary installations and we’ve figured out what they can and can’t do pretty well

      • Eric

        Pumped hydro is great, but there are few places where it is geographically possible, so it cannot scale.

        Tesla’s solar+battery installation in Hawaii is tiny, and likely heavily subsidized to sell at below-market costs (similar to Uber rides) so it does not prove anything about the cost of solar+batteries in general. Show me a large-scale affordable solar+batteries deployment…

        • michaelrjames

          Pumped hydro is great, but there are few places where it is geographically possible, so it cannot scale.

          No. That is completely wrong. It is possible in plenty of places, both coastal or off-river. Or in old mining shafts. So, it can be scaled more than any other storage tech. In fact it has always been the world’s largest storage system even if most people are unaware of it. The world has 180GW for 740TWh of PHES. Japan has 26GW of it, built to store its excess nighttime nuclear power (and perfect for storing solar & wind if only Japan would get its act together …). The single biggest is the Bath County Pumped Storage Station of 3GW (at least 7TWh storage) in the US.
          It’s true that most of this has been built as part of (an ‘add on’) to a big hydro scheme, and thus mostly built by the state. They also have very high heads of 300m to 800m, however that University of Melbourne report I cited earlier:

          Figure 29 shows that, as an example, at 100 metres of net head between the upper and lower reservoirs, approximately 5,000 ML (five million m3) of active water volume is required to store 1,000 MWh of energy.

          So about 80 to 100m head is the minimum.
          These new concepts (mines, off-river, turkey-nest) can be 200-300MW. So the 300MW Genex Kidston project (due to deliver to the grid this year) i s associated with a 50MW solar farm, and has been a purely commercial development in outback Queensland–where it works financially because it has avoided the need for very costly long-distance transmission wires. The Gaildorf off-river wind+PHES system in Germany was funded by the tiny community of Gaildorf to provide income to the town.

          In Australia where we huddle on the coasts, it will mostly be turkey-nests using seawater. This may be the first one, in South Australia (the same state that had the world largest battery to stabilise their grid):

          Cultana Pumped Hydro is near Port Augusta on Defence department land and will consist of a reservoir on top of a Precambrian plateau and a 5km penstock (pipes) to a constructed inlet on the Spencer Gulf. It will produce 225 MW electricity with 1770 MWh storage capacity for 8 hours and will cost of $477 million, which equates to about $2.1 million per MW (which is a bit expensive). However, arbitrage revenue modelling put the ROI for the asset at 8-12%

          Almost certainly this is the type of thing Hawaii will build, in combination with wind and solar. Chile is lining up finance to build a 300MW, 1,500GWh seawater PHES off the Atacama coast with some of the highest insolation on the planet to drive its solar-PV.

          It’s true that these new versions of PHES are being trialled now, both engineering-wise and financing, but I don’t think there is any doubt it is going to explode in relevance in the coming decade.

          • Eric

            It is true that there are “plenty of places” where pumped hydro can work, and also true that there are far too few places to satisfy the need for energy storage (unless you are willing to devastate a large fraction of your populated and fertile land to build giant reservoirs).

          • Eric

            Unpopulated infertile land is inhabited by the black spotted field owl, or whichever other endangered species you’ll only find out about when you decide to turn it into a lake.

          • Alon Levy

            Sounds like a problem that making decisions on endangered species by scientific advisors and not by adversarial lawsuits would solve.

          • michaelrjames

            Eric, Herbert, there must be some misconception happening here.
            It’s true that most existing PHES were built as part of giant dam projects, however that is not the conception for its modern incarnation. The turkey nest type are not especially intrusive:

            https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/04/02/more-than-a-half-million-pumped-hydro-sites-for-a-world-of-100-renewables/
            More than a half million pumped-hydro sites for a world of 100% renewables
            APRIL 2, 2019, EMILIANO BELLINI
            A recent Australian National University study shows that newly developed geographic information system algorithms can identify prospective sites for off-river pumped hydro projects throughout the world. The researchers, who identified around 530,000 potential sites, said pumped-hydro installations could enable large-scale energy time-shifting, as well as a range of ancillary services such as frequency regulation, which could help to integrate high levels of PV and wind into electricity systems.

    • Alon Levy

      And yet this problem does not happen in countries with a higher solar share than the US and electricity consumption peaks that are not in the summer.

    • Reedman Bassoon

      If size and weight aren’t important, but longevity is, then nickle-iron batteries (invented by Waldemar Jungner and Thomas Edison) should be used. Jay Leno has a 1909 Baker Electric (over 100 years old) that still runs with the original batteries.

  7. Matthew Hutton

    The real difficulty is decarbonising heating. Gas boilers cost 1/3 as much as electricity per kWh and can provide instant hot water which a 100A domestic electricity supply cannot provide the required quantity of. You’ll need to start giving houses 200A supplies and that’s a big change.

    • Alon Levy

      Israel has had solar boilers for decades – why doesn’t that work now that solar PV costs a fraction of what it did a generation ago?

      • michaelrjames

        Australia has a lot of rooftop solar HW installed. For a while in the 2000s in some places it became mandatory on new house builds. In places like Australia or Israel with such high insolation these make a lot of sense. Though it also works quite satisfactorily in northern climates like US and Europe. However they are somewhat out of favour these days because it is claimed that solar-PV combined with heat-pumps is more efficient. I remain sceptical, partly because it is kind of nonsense to speak of efficiency with the old solar-HW as they can produce more HW for free than any house would need. This kind of system can capture as much as 80% of the incident energy which is obviously way more (like 4x) than solar-PV, plus it is direct whereas the PV is converting light into electricity which is then converted into mechanical work to drive the heat pump.
        I suspect it is really the industry mindset combined with government subsidies for solar-PV that drives this, and that the building industry and property developers hate anything optional becoming mandatory (I think they killed it.) I can’t be sure, and I would be tempted to have both partly because solar-HW is not expensive and the installation will last as long as the house, and I wouldn’t want to “waste” solar-PV on anything other than the houses electrical needs. Plus solar-PV has limited life.

        • adirondacker12800

          They can produce scads of how water in the summer when it’s sunny. Not so much when it’s cloudy. So I still need a way to make hot water that isn’t solar. I can run the air conditioner on excess PV or hope the solar thermal doesn’t get tooo hot. Or run the TV or microwave or sell it back to the grid or charge the car’s battery or.. It depends somewhat on your climate. Hawaiians don’t want a lot of HVAC. I want stupendous amounts of it. Price difference between a solar thermal storage tank and air sourced heat pump water heater, which I need anyway because there are days when solar thermal doesn’t produce enough, I can put a simple heat exchanger outside and dump heat into the ground source when the electricity rate is “pleeeez use excess wind power”. During the milder parts of the year when there is going to be excess wind. The heat pump water heater can run too. After I’ve charged the car and house batteries. I can’t leverage all those fun things that with solar thermal.
          …. Or I still need the heat pump water heater. I can buy a $2,000 solar thermal storage tank or at $100 a kilowatt hour, enough battery to run the conventional elements in the heat pump water heater for 4 hours or the heat pump for 12… Hmm…

          • michaelrjames

            Sorry, couldn’t focus for long enough to grasp whatever points you are making.
            The thing is that any actual HW installation is not expensive, and this is the primary case for making it mandatory in new builds; it is pennies on the cost of buying a house, way less than, say, the cost of indoor toilets and you don’t make them (wc) optional. Apparently, even in north-american winters there are not many days when a solar-HW (ie. thermal) fails to heat the water (you realise the system uses the equivalent of a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun; even in the weakest sun would you be willing to put your hand at the focal point of a magnifying glass?), and so, on the days it can’t manage, then use whatever–old fashioned resistive-heater, or maybe supplementary gas-instant, it just doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of things. Of course a problem with American houses (and actually Australian new builds are the biggest houses in the world–yes, we transitioned to dumb Americans a few decades back) is they often come with a ginormous water heater and tank which is vastly in excess of what they really need 99% or often 100% of the time. Installing multiple smaller tanks/heaters makes more sense–or of course as I said, have the main system as solar-thermal and secondary instant-gas, or even heat-pump.

          • adirondacker12800

            When you don’t want to understand something focusing can be difficult. All that effort expended being obtuse can be tiring.
            How expensive is “not expensive”. Compared to doing it with PV? 20 years ago PV was very very very expensive. It’s not anymore.
            People with actual installation costs have been saying for years that solar thermal is too expensive compared to doing it with PV. PV is getting so cheap using a conventional electric water heater might be cheaper than an expensive heat pump water heater. Heat pump water heaters are getting cheaper but they are never going to be cheaper than conventional because they are more or less a conventional electric water heater with a heat pump stuck on top. There are variants that aren’t on top.

          • Tonami Playman

            From my experience with Solar water heaters. The evacuated tubes work really well even in wet season in tropical climates. The flat panel heaters are the ones that barely heat the water in the rainy season. They are almost a standard feature in homes and apartments in Puerto Rico due to high electricity prices (Second highest in the US after Hawaii). You usually find Resistive instant water heaters used in conjunction with the Solar water heaters. Most homes and apartments are fitted with the flat panel heaters, but more recently the evacuated tube collectors are becoming more prevalent.

            Also a quick search on Aliexpress lists Evacuated tube solar water heaters at an average price of $170, while the heat pump water heaters range between $600 and $900. I would say having a solar water heater in a home is a pretty negligible cost considering the cost of all other appliances within a home. Evacuated tube heaters tend to work pretty well in temperate climates as well, where it can be supplemented with conventional water heating for the coldest months. In tropical climates, Evacuated tube heaters can provide all hot water needs year round without any supplementation.

          • adirondacker12800

            In places where it gets below freezing often the outdoor plumbing needs an antifreeze solution in it that has to be isolated from the potable water. That gets expensive. And you still need a conventional water heater. And I can’t plug my air conditioner into a water tank on hot summer afternoons. Or sell excess hot water to my neighbor.
            How many milliliters of hot water a day do the $170 dollar heaters make?

          • michaelrjames

            Give it up, Adirondacker.
            Thanks Tonami Playman. Worth repeating:

            Evacuated tube solar water heaters at an average price of $170, while the heat pump water heaters range between $600 and $900. I would say having a solar water heater in a home is a pretty negligible cost considering the cost of all other appliances within a home. Evacuated tube heaters tend to work pretty well in temperate climates as well, where it can be supplemented with conventional water heating for the coldest months. In tropical climates, Evacuated tube heaters can provide all hot water needs year round without any supplementation.

          • michaelrjames

            Now here’s how pollies are supposed to look when boasting about their infrastructure projects (link below).
            Another Anglosphere transit project gone crazy: “Labor used the return of Parliament to pile pressure on the government after the Herald revealed that a secret review of the [Sydney] City and Southwest metro rail line calculated that it will now cost up to $16.8 billion to complete by 2024, more than $4 billion above what had been budgeted.”

            https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/berejiklian-under-fire-over-4-billion-blowout-in-metro-rail-project-20200204-p53xjp.html

          • adirondacker12800

            If I fill a black plastic garbage bag with water and hang it out on a sunny summer day I get a warm shower at the end day.
            I can find a system that clearly says it’s for places that don’t experience freezing weather. That’s big enough for few showers and washing dishes. $2,300 and then it needs to be installed. I don’t know where he’s buying $600 heat pump water heaters. The cheapest one the big box stores have is $1,169. I’m not going to go figure out what is is after incentives. I want to know how many milliliters you get for $170

          • michaelrjames

            TP was underestimating the cost of Heat-Pump systems, but in my post I was really endorsing the evacuated-tube version of solar-HW. In a lot of the world, including most of the US, these work really well for most of the year, are almost zero maintenance and have a working life of at least 30 years despite all the misinformation put around by companies trying to sell you something else. For the small number of days they don’t quite get the water hot enough, cheap default resistive heating is fine. Here’s a dirty secret about Heat-Pumps:

            It works best in hot climates. In northern areas, with cold water temperatures, the unit works mostly like a standard electric water heater since there is not enough latent heat energy in the surrounding air to transfer to water in the tank. This is the same reason that heat pumps are not commonly used in northern climates for space heating, the COP is too low to deliver any heat.

            So really they are a bit like hybrid electric cars: make their owners feel virtuous (and virtue-signalling) while actually running on fuel (or mains power) most of the time.

          • adirondacker12800

            they do work really well. I want to know how much they cost. If they cost more than running a water heater on PV they cost too much. The places where it’s too cold to put your heat pump water heater outside are the places where your solar thermal system would need antifreeze and expensive heat exchangers. though why anyone would put their heat pump water heater outside is good question. The places where it’s warm enough to put it outside are the places with high air conditioning loads and putting the heat pump water heater inside reduces that. Either of them are good places to consider ground sourced heat pumps where it’s the same temperature give or take a degree or two all year round.

          • michaelrjames

            where your solar thermal system would need antifreeze and expensive heat exchangers

            It seems Australian HW systems (of all types) operate differently to the US, and maybe a lot of the world. Ours have a big storage tank at atmospheric pressure that has an immersed resistive heating element that heats the water in the tank. Or the tank water is heated by gas. There is a long coiled pipe in the tank that carries the main-pressure mains water that feeds the house with hotwater. I suppose this has a lot more copper in it and this makes it more expensive, but it is the only legal system in Australia. The tank has a considerable residual value for the copper.
            Thus in this system you’d have a more or less standard immersion hot-water tank with the addition of a second circuit of coiled copper that is the secondary circuit for the liquid (antifreeze or whatever) thru the solar elements on the roof.
            This has triggered memories of British hot-water systems which are (or were?) truly awful. It is a purely gravity fed system, ie. with the tank being open to the atmosphere and the water being the same that flows thru the house HW circuit. It’s why water pressure for a shower is so diabolical there. It depends on the head, ie. where the tank is located; in apartments this gives very low pressure.

    • Eric

      Gas costs 1/3 as much as electricity per kWh, but water (and air) can be heated with an electric heat pump which typically has a CoP of around 3, so the overall cost for energy should be about the same. Geothermal heat pumps can be even more efficient.

    • Onux

      I’m not sure the type of heating you are referring to here. If it is hot water heating (for sinks, showers, washing machines, etc.) then electric water heaters have existed for a long time. Tankless electric water heaters need an oversized source of power, but conventional tank heaters do not.

      If it is space heating, then yes, electric heating of water to feed a radiator system is very inefficient, but as others have noted you use an efficient heat pump for this purpose instead. You are correct that heat pumps alone are not great at providing hot water, but see above. There are hybrid heaters that use a heat pump to get water warm, minimizing the conventional electric power to get it hot.

      In general though, residential/commercial emissions are not a priority. Emissions from transportation and electricity are FIVE times emissions from residential/commercial. Industrial emissions are double residential/commercial. The indirect emissions from providing homes and businesses electricity is larger than their direct emissions (i.e. heating). Reducing emissions from transportation and power generation is the big lift; cleaner burning and cheap natural gas for heating, hot water, and stoves is the last thing to worry about.

      • Matthew Hutton

        The problem with conventional tank heaters is that you have to spend a lot of money heating them to avoid legionaries disease and they take up a lot of room. And I’m not sure they aren’t a priority – as per https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/863325/2018-final-emissions-statistics-summary.pdf residential gas is 15% of total CO2 in the UK and the Economical Environmentalist (which is admittedly quite old) reckons the average person here uses 2 tonnes of CO2 to heat their home which would be 1/3 of the total now.

        • adirondacker12800

          We don’t have that problem in North America. The clean water doesn’t get exposed until it comes out of a tap. Neither do the Australians apparently. It has it’s charms. The water can be at temperatures that pose less of a scalding risk. And we don’t have to worry about the hot water contaminating the cold water either. We can have hot water and cold water come out of the same hole.

          • adirondacker12800

            The first outbreak that was identified. The American Legion had a convention in hotel in Philadelphia. The Legionnaires were getting sick. So the illness, whatever it was, was called Legionnaires Disease. It was a problem with the HVAC not the potable water. It’s usually a problem with the HVAC, that causes an outbreak.

          • michaelrjames

            It’s ducted AC that is responsible because it spreads the spores around in the air and people breathe it in. (I don’t know for sure, but I suspect you can drink Legionnaires bugs without effect.) It does have a ≈10% mortality rate which is at least 5x that of Wuhan coronavirus.

  8. Jardinero1

    Electric cars are as unlikely as ICE cars to solve the environmental challenges Alon refers to. Both types of vehicles present a set of trade offs which weighed, in toto, are not benign. Most people, will opt for the convenience and reliability that cars provide. So, Alon is right that the problem is cars.. Where I break with Alon is the way he constantly reverts to rail as the preferred mode. Buses are as effective as rail for many, many more routes and destinations. Where buses break down is when they have to compete, on the road, with cars. And again, we come back to cars as the problem. If people are always going to choose cars and electrics are no better than ICE, then the only real solution is to ban cars. With no cars on the roadways, that leaves the roadways wide open for buses and delivery vehicles. Buses could run at higher frequencies and higher rates of speed. This is not a policy choice I like or prefer. I don’t like or use public transport. I like my car and I use it. And I don’t want cars banned. But when you look at the problem objectively, I don’t see any solution but to ban cars.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Buses can co-exist with cars as long as their is low traffic congestion or they have dedicated lanes.

      • Herbert

        Buses do not have the capacity you need to move large numbers of people. And they need insane numbers of operators. Rail in the extreme case needs zero – existing operations like Nuremberg subway, not hypotheticals.

        Plus rail has been electric for a century, all attempts to electrify buses bring their own downsides

  9. Dan

    What’s the cheapest hsr per mile? Can you do it for less than $10-12m per because that would make it feasible to do it to many mid-size cities in the us?

    • Alon Levy

      Spain has some lines for around $15 million per km, but $25-30 million is more common around Europe (and China’s 300+ km/h lines aren’t cheaper in PPP terms).

    • adirondacker12800

      The mid sized cities in the U.S. tend to be along the way between the big cities.

          • adirondacker12800

            cut it off at 3 million, there’s no place in Ohio with a big city or a mid sized city. Makes Pennsylvania and New York a lot easier to think about because there is Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and New York City in New York. If the train from Detroit to Philadelphia doesn’t have to stop in Ohio or the rest of Pennsylvania that would make things easier. Only 4 in California, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco and San Diego. Silly them worrying about San Jose or Sacramento. And those silly Midwesterners worrying about Saint Louis. Or Cleveland. Drop it to two million and New England is easy to think about. There’s Boston. Providence is too small. Three million does stop the fantasies of Salt Lake City or Denver. There’s just slightly over three million people in all of Utah and Denver’s MSA is less than three million. There’s only 5.7 million people in all of Colorado.

          • Herbert

            “Metro area” is a meaningless term. In no sane world is the Spreewald “Metro anything”

  10. adirondacker12800

    They let people from the suburbs use the train station just like they let people from the suburbs use the airport so I doubt he’s got municipal boundaries in mind. The Census Bureau defines 384 metropolitan areas. 38th on the list is Providence Rhode Island. It’s on the way between Boston and New York. Salt Lake City Utah is 47th on the list but then Salt Lake City is so far away from anything else it’s not going to have high speed rail unless you want to ban cars and airplanes. Hartford Connecticut is 48th and it’s on the way between Boston and New York City if you want to send the trains through Springfield Mass. instead of Providence R.I.
    Very very very roughly half the people in the U.S. live in the Eastern Time Zone. Around two thirds of them live along Interstate 35 or east of there. East of I-35 you are stumbling across a large-ish metro area quite frequently.
    The top ten metro areas along I-35 and east are
    New York
    Chicago
    Dallas
    Houston
    Washington D.C.
    Miami
    Philadelphia
    Atlanta
    Boston
    Detroit

    Boston to Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia are along the way. I don’t think he had that in mind. Chicago to Boston? Detroit is along the way. Chicago to Atlanta! there aren’t any top tens along the way. But Indianapolis is. 34th biggest metro in the country. And Louisville, the 45th. And Nashville, the 36th. They are all in the top 50. Like Buffalo NY. Which at the moment is 50th. Rochester NY is 51st. Is Rochester on the line between New York and Toronto or is it on the line between Chicago and Boston? since the tracks are going to be there anyway it probably makes sense to have a station in Rochester. Because the tracks will be leading to Toronto, Detroit, Boston and New York.

    Cut it off at a million people in metro area that’s Tuscon AZ. Tuscon isn’t along the way to anywhere but it’s going to be cheap to send trains to Phoenix and from there to Los Angeles. Riverside-San Bernandino, the 13th biggest metro area is along the way. Palm Springs doesn’t have it’s own metro area because the Census clumps things into whole counties. It’s along the way between Phoenix and Riverside. I hear it’s quite popular as a tourist destination for people in Los Angeles and San Diego.

    How about metro areas in the top 20s? ….. Is Pittsburgh a big city or a mid sized city? Is it along the line between Detroit and Philadelphia or the line between Cleveland and New York? Ut oh, Pittsburgh is 27th on the list and Cleveland is 33rd…. If mid sized cities are metro areas that manage to make into the top ten percent, they tend to be along the way.

    • michaelrjames

      Salt Lake City Utah is 47th on the list but then Salt Lake City is so far away from anything else it’s not going to have high speed rail unless you want to ban cars and airplanes.

      Yet, the transcontinental railroad went there (or close enough).
      Of course the rejoinder is that cars and airplanes didn’t exist them. Yet, HSR is their equivalent today. Heck, even Elon Musk thinks that, belied by his attempt to become the richest person on the planet by pimping a mere transitional middling technology (EV, BTW, one that is 130 years old) for short distances.

      SLC is easily within HSR distances and times to other places like Denver, Las Vegas (and thence LA), San Francisco. Did the creators and funders of the IHS quibble about extending to SLC? Or even to Alaska, via another country!

      • adirondacker12800

        And the railroad still runs from California to the Mississippi. Freight doesn’t care that it takes so long. There are too few people in Utah to get to places with not very many to be building hundreds of miles of railroad through mountains. Or even nice flat plains.

        • Herbert

          Electrification makes sense in any case. That’s why the Russians electrified the Transsib

          • adirondacker12800

            If there are half a dozen freight trains on the tracks between Odgen Utah and Cheyenne Wyoming taking their sweet time to get there, they are in the way of a passenger trains that goes faster than them. Not that there are enough people in Wyoming for passenger trains.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Utah also has all those national parks that are currently only accessible by slow driving. Being able to get a high speed train from LA to Vegas to Saint George and renting a car there would be a big improvement on driving the whole way to Zion canyon. And with HSR to Salt Lake City you could have a daily sleeper train from LA and from SAN Francisco to Yellowstone national park that arrived at a sensible time in the morning

        • Matthew Hutton

          Plus for people coming to the US from Europe and the places they can get direct flights to from Europe away from the coasts are likely to be just Vegas, Chicago and Dallas Fort Worth. If HSR can connect those airports to more tourist attractions and average more than 70mph that’ll beat driving.

        • michaelrjames

          SLC to LV: 580km … 2h15m
          LV to LA: 400km … 1h55m

          Thus say 4h30m SLC to LA; travel time with a 8h to 10h R&R break in LV.
          Perhaps those Utahans may not want to set their gentle souls into sin-city, in which case they can stay on the train and enjoy some of the most spectacular mountain and desert landscape in north America. Mitt might be first passenger since it seems soon he will be spending more time with his family…

          These are the times a European (or Chinese) HST would manage on proper LGV. There is already a train SLC to LV which takes about 8 hours.

          • adirondacker12800

            580 km at an extraordinarily low price of 10 million a kilometer is 5.8 billion dollars. It’s 471 from Albany to Buffalo on I-90/NYSThruway. There are more people in metro Albany, Rochester and Buffalo than there are Utah. Ohio, Ontario and Detroit are west of Buffalo and New England is east of Albany. There are more people in Ohio and metro Detroit than there are in Arizona, Nevada and Utah combined.
            Mitt isn’t up for re-election until 2024. He’s got four years to screech about Hillary’s emails and how we never got to the bottom of the Biden scandal. And book private jets to travel between his six houses. Nah, his wife’s personal staff probably takes care of that.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I’m not saying a HSR mirroring the I15 should be a top priority north of Las Vegas – just that it is probably viable and a big improvement on driving.

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