Sunday, June 20, 2010
“Dan The Blogger” was writing a comment (to alert reader Andrew F) and decided to just go ahead and make a post out of it. (I refer to myself in the third person as sort of a joke, as well as a way to be found slightly more easily on the Internet) The comment was about putting utilities in the track, and here are some observations:
Electric companies keep themselves pretty busy repairing electric lines that are damaged by ice, wind, auto accidents, etc. Recently, in Louisville KY, the tail end of a Gulf hurricane darkened much of the city for weeks, and then, a couple of months later, a severe ice storm did the same thing. There was a public outcry. The electric company reported that the only real solution would be to bury the wires, something that they estimated would cost about one million per mile. That was that. The poles remain.
Actually, in spite of the cost, buried lines carry a fairly large percentage of the electricity in the U.S. But the wire is not totally safe there either, and one city reported a digging accident, on average, every single day. There are also problems with water intrusion and corrosion. So what I take away from this is that even with the cost and problems of buried lines, it is still widely considered worth it. They have never dreamed of the kind of sheltered accessibility that the PRT track would provide.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a lawsuit was recently filed against the electric company for polluting the ground water. Wooden telephone poles have been treated to prevent rot with a host of nasty chemicals, mostly illegal these days, and are known to leach these poisons into the soil. Millions need replacing annually because of rot, which, if you think about it, is actually the process of the wood itself turning into soil, preservative and all. At some point this practice will stop. Any electric company that would proactively take out the poles and the dirt around them before they were forced to do the job under regulatory scrutiny would be doing their shareholders a big favor. And they would look good doing it.
I wonder then, about the prospect of offering to house a mile of those electric lines safely for a mere, say, $900,000? That’s about $170.00 per ft. enough to pay for all of the steel in the trusses I showed last post. Those poles need to come out eventually. It is just a matter of time, and the contaminated area is expanding as we speak.
Then there is the matter of street lighting. Most streetlights are outdated, by and large, both in electrical efficiency and design. As a person who flies a fair amount, I often stare down in wonderment at the sheer volume of energy used to light all of those city streets below. Although the typical sodium vapor is quite efficient in many respects, LED lighting has the potential to vastly reduce energy costs over all. Apparently, as sodium vapor lamps age, they require high and higher voltage to stay lit, eventually exceeding the capacity of the ballast, and the light will begin to flicker, then flash intermittently, then go out altogether. But another aspect is the whole notion of always flooding a large area with bright light even when it is not needed. You can’t put dimmers on sodium vapor streetlights.
Way back in post 14 I illustrated PRT track based street lighting. It uses many little directed spotlights to illuminate objects on the ground without blinding drivers. When drivers are not forced to stare into the light they need less of it to see, hence less wattage is required. Furthermore, much less light is needed at, say, 3:00 AM than at 10:00 PM, because there is almost no traffic. Having many smaller lights enables energy saving schemes where, for instance, half of the lights are turned off in those wee hours or are on motion detectors. More savings. And of course there is the matter of not needing a ladder truck to change the LEDs, which last longer in the first place.
The point is that the city, too, has a potential financial benefit from PRT track, aside from the transportation angle. By the way, this money is your tax dollars at work. In Los Angeles, for instance, each 50’ property is assessed $70.00 per year to keep those streetlights on. Not only will PRT make a street quieter, (over adding a traffic lane) it could directly save the effected property owners money.
Another aspect is the possibility of using solar cells on top of the track to eliminate the electrical costs altogether. Even amorphous (cheap) solar cells produce about 5 watts per square foot. This means the track could produce, say, 10 watts per linear foot. I would guess that this is pretty close to sufficient for the kind of system I have in mind.
I must say that, as an era, this is not one where the “winds of change” are blowing very hard. Perhaps people are a bit overwhelmed by the pace of advancement in communications and computer related fields. It’s certainly not like the sixties, when every car needed fins and taillights that looked like booster rockets to celebrate our entrée into the “Space Age”. At any rate, it seems people are in no mood for their government to try anything new with their tax money. Can you imagine mega-projects like the interstate highway system or rural electrification getting passed today? PRT is going to need to be seen as having multiple, tangible, short-term benefits as well as those harder-to-explain ones that most of us already understand. It will need to be structured in a way gauged to gain friends in high places and to have multiple levels of public appeal.
No black outs and tax savings – That’s a start.