Monthly Archives: May 2009

What to do when you’re away from public transportation

Now, I know many of you out there probably don’t live in a large city so; you do not have a public transit system that you can use. I fall into this category.  I live in a small town of roughly 9,000 people.  I have to travel roughly 20 miles from my house everyday when college is in session.  I typically am traveling college related things about six or seven days a week.  This, of course, can add up to a lot of miles per week and a lot of energy usage. So, what types of options are there when public transportation isn’t an option?

There are several options that can be used to help reduce your energy usage:

  • Carpooling
  • Purchase an efficient vehicle
  • Maintain your current vehicle
  • Travel less

Carpooling

Carpooling is an excellent choice if you can arrange travel with someone local.  The biggest problem that I have with carpooling is scheduling.  I am not able to carpool because I usually never know how long I will be at school. The amount of time that I may spend at school will vary day-to-day, it all depends on the schoolwork load that I have.  If I weren’t a student and worked a ‘normal’ job then this would definitely be an option I would consider.  If you live near a work friend, then by all means take advantage of carpooling.  Carpooling reduces the energy used because you are driving one vehicle for two people instead of two cars for two people.  Carpooling reduces wear and tear on your vehicle as well as the amount of gasoline used; all of this will save you money as well.


Purchasing an efficient vehicle

Purchasing a new vehicle can be a good option, depending on the circumstances.  If you are in the market for a vehicle, then by all means buy a fuel-efficient vehicle.  If you are not in the market for a new vehicle, then buying a vehicle is typically not very economical.  Usually the amount of money saved by buying a newer, efficient vehicle, is consumed in the interest on the loan for the vehicle.  If you are can afford to buy a new or used vehicle outright then you might experience a net savings.

I have been debating whether I should buy a vehicle or keep my current vehicle, a 1999 Pontiac Grand AM GT.  I like my car but the vehicle has been very repair prone during its life, plus I have 140,000 miles on the vehicle.  So I started looking at used cars in the $6,000 range.  Here were the two things I was looking for:

  1. Reliability
  2. Fuel efficiency

After spending countless hours researching vehicles I came up with the following vehicles that fit my needs: Mazda3, Honda Civic and Ford Focus.  Now the question was could I find any of these vehicles in my price range and would any of these vehicles actually save me money.

The first thing I looked at was the fuel efficiency of each vehicle, in comparison to my Pontiac Grand Am, as seen below:

Vehicle Comparison

Note: These figures were based on the price of gas being $2.50/gal and driving 18,000 miles annually. Courtesy of Fueleconomy.gov.

The above image has two key items to look at:

  1. Combined fuel economy
  2. Annual fuel cost

If you look at the combined fuel economy I would not see a signficant gain from any of these cars, except the Honda Civic.  The next thing to notice is the cost to drive each vehicle annually, which can be seen on the bottom line of the image.  At most, I could save roughly $600 dollars per year by buying a Honda Civic.

If I were to spend roughly $2000 out of pocket after selling my vehicle, then I would have to keep this vehicle three and a half years before I would begin to see a payback.  Now, granted this does not take into account repairs but these are very difficult to account for.

Again, like I said earlier, depending on your situation purchasing a vehicle could actually be beneficial.


Maintain your current vehicle

Another viable option is to maintain my current vehicle and try to make it as efficient as possible.  This in most cases will be the most cost effective method.  I have actively began to do the following:

  • Eliminate excess weight from the vehicle – I have a audio system in my car so I recently decided to take out my large subwoofers and their box.  I swapped them with a smaller, lighter pair that I have.  This way I can still enjoy my music and reduce weight.
  • Check tire pressure – I check my tire pressure every oil change, but doing it more often is preferred.
  • Slow down – Just driving 5 mph slower can make a significant impact on fuel economy.
  • Cruise control - This keeps your engines work load relatively constant which, increases fuel economy.
  • Idle less – This is actually pretty easy, for example, I have made it a habit to shut my car off when I am sitting in an touch-less car wash.
  • Maintain engine – Keeping up on maintenance intervals and repairs keeps your engine in tip-top shape, which equates to better gas mileage.

Even though my car has lots of miles on it, 140,000, I should be able to get another 60,000 miles out of it, at least.  This should get me through college, at which point I could begin my quest for a newer more efficient vehicle.


Travel less

One of the easiest ways to reduce your energy usage is to drive less.  Now, this method may seem way too obvious but, it is much harder than it sounds.  If you are like me and have somewhere you have to be everyday, then this will consist of less joy rides or consolidating vehicle trips.  I always try to consolidate trips and keep wasteful driving down to a minimum anyways.  The problem is that I, unfortunately, have to be at school every day of the week (when school is in session).  Next time you want to make a trip to town for something ask yourself: can this wait or is there anything else that I need while in town?
If there is anything you feel I missed, leave a comment and we can discuss it.

Also, if anyone has any ideas or suggestions regarding my decision to purchase or keep my vehicle, please feel free to leave a comment about that too.

Coming up next…conserving in your home and what I did to reduce energy consumption in my home.  Make sure to bookmark are site or subscribe to our RSS/Email feed(s).

Energy or Money–Which Is More Real?

Often while I am studying our energy future, I run into this question:

“As the price of energy increases, won’t the market respond by inventing new systems that generate new supplies of energy and prevent energy supply problems?”

This question begs the following question.

Does money control the energy supply? Or does the energy supply control the value of money? In order to answer these questions, we first need to understand the concepts of energy and money.

What is energy?
The word “energy” comes from the Greek word meaning activity, “energeia,” and is the quantity of work that can be done by a force. The study of energy turns up in nearly all scientific endeavors, from studies of the beginning of life to space travel.

While energy can take many forms and is never lost, there are observed behaviors of energy expressed by the laws of thermodynamics. These laws are part of physical reality, preventing mankind from “creating” energy and also placing strict limits on its conversions.

Energy is an important part of anything that is alive. One definition of life is “a characteristic of an organism that uses biological processes to change free energy or energy containing substances to a degraded form.” Energy separates life from death, growth from decay, and breakdown from repair.

Most marvels of the modern world are massive energy consumers. A list of industries in the modern world reveals that nearly all are large consumers of energy. Modern transportation, housing, health care, and food production all require huge inputs of energy. The availability of large quantities of energy has changed human existence in such a profound way that it difficult to even contemplate. Much of what is commonly thought of as “amazing technology” and/or the “power of money” is actually “energy availability.”

The energy that humans currently use has allowed modern societies to break free of the limits that preceded and will follow this period. That limit is living with the energy that arrives at Earth each day from the Sun.

What is money?
Money is an accounting system used to facilitate trade and the keeping of accounts. United States money is a “fiat” currency system. Fiat means that federal law requires the currency be accepted for public and private debts. There are no guarantees the money will retain any value. In fact, the US government neither guarantees the value of money nor actually owns any money. All US dollars are owned by a private banking consortium called the Federal Reserve, and congress is prohibited by law from interfering with the wishes of the bankers. The private bankers adjust the money supply and therefore the value of the money as they see fit.

In summary
Money, at least the kind that most modern societies use, is a concept created by man and does not exist in the physical world. The rise and fall of currencies is of little consequence to the laws of energy and energy will limit the “wealth” of all organisms, beings, and societies long after all human currencies have collapsed and cease to exist. Money must be managed carefully by humans so that it remains useful in the face of changes in the energy system, for it is energy that powers everything from the human heart to the world’s largest building.

Transportion With Less Energy (Part 1)

Transportation is one of the largest users of energy in our society.  If you break down transportation even further you will find that privately owned vehicles are the largest users of energy within the transportation sector.  Privately owned vehicles are vehicles owned by people like you and me.

Our society’s infrastructure is largely dependent on people owning their own vehicle.  With the exception of some major cities, public transportation is either non-existent or is dismal at best.  Unfortunately, the United States hasn’t built a very robust public transportation like many other countries in the world.  Typically public transportation in only located around large cities and there is no form of public transportation for longer travels (with the exception of Amtrak).  If you live in a large city then you typically have some options for public transportation:

  • Bus
  • Rail and Train
  • Taxi
  • Water

Public Bus Transportation

Bus systems are very common in cities, even some smaller cities.  Buses offer a good use of resources because you have one bus transporting several people.  This cuts back on energy usage and many bus systems offer decent travel times.  If you can ride the bus it will help save energy and can save you money too.  Often time’s bus fares are very reasonable because tax dollars partially fund most bus systems. Another small benefit is the reduced wear and tear on your vehicle.

Public Rail and Train Transportation

Rail and train transit systems are typically found only in large cities, like Chicago or San Francisco.  Most of the time these rail systems are located within a large city and possibly the cities suburbs.  This form of transportation is very efficient.  Rail systems offer fast transportation times; the ability to transport many people and they typically operate on efficient energy systems using electricity.  I have personally used the Chicago rail system several years ago on a trip and I found it to be a very nice system.  If I lived in that area I could easily see myself using this system for the majority of my in city travel.

Public Taxi Transportation

Taxis are another form of public transit but they are generally privately funded.  I suppose there might be some minute gain in efficiency when compared to everyone driving themselves but this still uses inefficient vehicles to transport just a single person.  The fact that taxis can reduce the amount of vehicles on the road, seems to be the only significant positive to the taxi system.  Several taxi services are looking into increasing fuel efficiency by using hybrid vehicles. This might make the taxi system more efficient but, one can argue that hybrids require more energy to produce than a typical vehicle in the first place.  Also, from my experience taxis usually are not very price competitive so, this makes this a last choice in my book.

Public Water Transportation

Water transportation is very limited and is a niche form of transportation.  When it is available though it can be a good choice both economically and environmentally.  The major downfall that I can see with water transportation is speed.  From my personal experiences, most water systems, like ferries, are relatively slow.

So what should you do if you find yourself out of reach of public transportation?

That we will discuss with my next post.

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