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Holiday from Sanity

May 3rd, 2008

I was pretty much stunned into silence by the proposal for a gasoline tax holiday put forward by John McCain and Hillary Clinton (not that it matters but I’m not clear which of them came up with it first – can anyone set me straight on this). I won’t bother repeating all the reasons why this is a terrible idea ( when Tom Friedman has your number, I’d say your number is up).

Just a couple of observations. First, I find it hard to see how anyone serious can support either McCain or Clinton after this.

Second, the fact that the proposal has lasted this long suggests to me that the chance of any serious US action on global warming after the election is not that great. Without the US, we won’t get anything from China and India either, so that means we’re setting course for disaster. Perhaps if Obama wins, he’ll be able to turn this around, but this episode has me very depressed.

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  1. John Mashey
    May 7th, 2008 at 16:19 | #1

    re: #48 carbonsink

    Yes, good article by David.

    Personal opinion: in the long term, it’s hard to see how aviation doesn’t shrink quite a bit, with whatever is left using biofuels from algae, jatropha, etc. The biggest hope would be algae with some bioengineering wizardry that algae people claim is coming, but which I cannot really evaluate yet. Algae is nontrivial, for sure. If people make it work (I have friends who are trying), then places with sun and desert can be big fuel producers.

    Consider that UK wants to do a major expansion of Heathrow, tearing down hundreds of houses at the North edge, to build Runway 3, hoping to be ready around 2020.

    The latest UK DfT document I could find, published 2004, says:

    “A2.12 Aviation fuel prices
    The price of oil is assumed to stabilise around its current value of $25 a barrel, although in the longer term it may decline. As fuel is approximately 10% of costs even a 50% change in the price of oil has a modest effect on air fares but nevertheless a significant one compared to other drivers.”

    Since this is an econ blog, people may want to look up definitions of “stranded assets”.

    I don’t know enough to know whether this particular airport expansion is a good investment or not. {After all, London has several airports. Maybe as air travel peaks, they’re better off centralizing at Heathrow and shutting the others, although the dynamics of cities with multiple big airports can be tricky.]

    I would suggest that *any* long-term investments in public infrastructure consider Peak Oil and Sea Level Rise effects in its lifetime.

    If you need petroleum to build something long-lived, do it soon, while oil is still cheap.

    At least Heathrow only need worry about one of those. I’d think twice about major long-term expansions of airports on coasts near sea-level. [In SF, we have two ... and I think you have one or two in Oz.] Maybe the approach is to use dikes until air traffic falls enough to not need the airport any more.

  2. May 7th, 2008 at 16:30 | #2

    Lets just say I’m a little dubious about any auto (CVT or not) beating a manual, I don’t care what the official fuel economy figures say.

    Lets do an apples-to-apples comparison. The Colt is available with both petrol and diesel engines in the UK. Here are the economy figures for same capacity engine with same transmission:
    1.5L 5spd man petrol: 45.6 mpg or 6.2L/100km
    1.5L 5spd man diesel: 58.9 mpg or 4.8L/100km

    Note that the diesel model is actually 500 pounds cheaper in the UK.

    Besides, what you or I think is irrelevant. In the most advanced car market in the world, where fuel prices are double what they are here and triple what they are in the US, the Majority Of European Cars Now Run On Diesel.

    The market has spoken.

  3. May 7th, 2008 at 16:31 | #3

    Lets just say I’m a little dubious about any auto (CVT or not) beating a manual, I don’t care what the official fuel economy figures say.

    Lets do an apples-to-apples comparison. The Colt is available with both petrol and diesel engines in the UK. Here are the economy figures for same capacity engine with same transmission:

    1.5L 5spd man petrol: 45.6 mpg or 6.2L/100km
    1.5L 5spd man diesel: 58.9 mpg or 4.8L/100km

    (I’d post links but PrQ’s blog won’t let me)

    Note that the diesel model is actually 500 pounds cheaper in the UK.

    Besides, what you or I think is irrelevant. In the most advanced car market in the world, where fuel prices are double what they are here and triple what they are in the US, the Majority Of European Cars Now Run On Diesel.

    The market has spoken.

  4. May 7th, 2008 at 16:36 | #4

    observa:

    The links showing Mitsubishi Colt economy figures in the UK are here:
    UK Mitsubishi Colt Models

    I compared the “1.5 CZ3 5dr” (petrol) with the “1.5 DI-D CZ2 5dr” (diesel).

  5. May 7th, 2008 at 16:40 | #5

    The price of oil is assumed to stabilise around its current value of $25 a barrel, although in the longer term it may decline

    That is frickin’ hilarious! No doubt a highly qualified economist, who is very dismissive of peak oil, came up with that forecast.

  6. Ian Gould
    May 7th, 2008 at 17:42 | #6

    There are a few minor things aviation can do – a surprisingly large percentage of aviation fuel is used taxiing around on the ground and running the electrical generation units for air-conditioning and power while on the ground.

    Battery-powered tractors could probably tow aircraft to reduce the amount of taxiing needed and the aircraft could probably be hooked into ground-based power grids somehow for at least much of the time they spend on the ground.

    I’ve also wondered if you might see civilian aircraft using some version of the catapults used for take-off assists for naval aircraft.

  7. May 7th, 2008 at 20:34 | #7

    Ian Gould #55:

    Sure those things will help at the margin, as will incremental improvements in efficiency, but with oil potentially doubling or tripling again in the next few years, aviation needs more than incremental gains.

    According to this propeller-driven typically consume a quarter to a third less fuel than equivalent jets. That’s a big gain, and there’s probably more to come if engineers focus on improving propellor plane efficiency.

    In addition, propellor planes fly lower and slower than jets emitting fewer GHGs (such as water vapour and NOx) into the upper atmosphere.

  8. observa
    May 8th, 2008 at 12:13 | #8

    “I compared the “1.5 CZ3 5drâ€? (petrol) with the “1.5 DI-D CZ2 5drâ€? (diesel).”

    Don’t know about UK Colts carbonsink, but I’m quoting Aus ADR fuel cosumption figures for Oz distributed cars as described under the specs for each car at the Redbook site. RRPs too. Redbook is the best, one stop, comprehensive car guide going around and as well you can check depreciation prices for various cars over the years as well, to see that owning a Prius doesn’t stack up against standard fuel misers. Well not unless you’re a cabbie maybe, or a greenie public servant getting the Govt to indulge you. Actually if you want to compare true running costs, the NRMA have a pretty comprehensive weekly running cost, data list for comparisons too.

  9. observa
    May 8th, 2008 at 13:37 | #9

    If you want to compare weekly running costs of vehicles (based on 15,000km/yr and new to 5 years old, whole of life averaging) go here and have a play http://www.mynrma.com.au/cps/rde/xchg/mynrma/hs.xsl/operating_costs_full.htm
    The cheapest is about $120/week for a bare bones 3door, manual, Hyundai Getz. Whack that up to 5 door auto with all the power and safety options and the Colt and Getz are inseparable at $139/wk, jumping to $199 for the base Prius, $233 for an LPG auto Falcon and a whopping $350 for a V8 auto Landcruiser. Take your pick with rising petrol prices, but remember those $4500, 5 year warranty, Prius replacement batteries and these costs are based on the first 5 years of ownership as being whole of life. That might affect your choice if you can only stretch the budget to a 5 year old second hand model.

    “Lets just say I’m a little dubious about any auto (CVT or not) beating a manual, I don’t care what the official fuel economy figures say.”
    I didn’t do the testing or supply the comparison figures, but it would largely be the ability for the CVT to allow the engine to run at its most efficient output revs all the time. Presumably that’s where the Prius gets a lot of its economy from too and when you consider the characteristics of diesel engines, a CVT may do better than for petrol. At any rate CVTs are growing in use, even in large cars and trucks now, so the technology must have grown quickly.

  10. observa
  11. observa
    May 8th, 2008 at 14:22 | #11

    Even uni students can build them carbonsink, providing they’ve been to the right lectures http://www.chemassociates.com/products/findett/Santotrac_USU_Mini_Baja.pdf

  12. May 8th, 2008 at 18:38 | #12

    I’m sure CVTs are wonderful and probably a lot better than conventional autos, but this is like the diesel vs hybrid argument, its not an either/or proposition. The best solution is not diesel –OR– hybrid, its a diesel-hybrid.

    Similarly, a diesel engine hooked up to a CVT is going to return better economy than a petrol CVT, because the diesel cycle is more efficient than the Otto cycle

    However, a diesel engine will be more efficient overall since it will have the ability to operate at higher compression ratios. If a petrol engine was to have the same compression ratio, then knocking (self-ignition) would occur and this would severely reduce the efficiency, whereas in a diesel engine, the self ignition is the desired behavior. … And the ideal Otto cycle formula stated above does not include throttling losses, which do not apply to diesel engines.

    This advantage in thermal efficiency is not something that’s going to change.

  13. observa
    May 8th, 2008 at 21:15 | #13

    Agree about the diesel hybrid tradeoff carbonsink and ultimately it may be small CVT, FWD, diesel, wedged boxes in a few years time. I’ll be ready to chop the Colt shopping trolley in about 3 years time as it’s one year old now and the missus racks up about 20,000km/yr. I find trading them at 80k with a years factory warranty left works out fairly well. Not so Aussie sixes because of the high fronr end depreciation so I drive the utes into the ground on LPG. Interesting though, how the push for economy has driven an old technology in CVT to the forefront. The Colt is like driving an electric job. Great with a column shift too like the good old days as you can slide across and get out the kerb side easily on a busy road.

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