Tag Archives: Climate Progress

Using electricity from regenerative braking

Most rail mass-transit systems use electricity for motive power. The electric motors that accelerate the train can also be reversed to slow the train and generate electricity, which is called regenerative braking. Unless this energy is used immediately (another train is leaving the station at the same time as one is arriving), it typically is shunted to a bank of resistors and wasted as excess heat. However, a couple transit systems are finding economical ways to use this energy.

Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) installed a lithium-ion battery system to store the excess power. They are able to make the investment profitable by accessing the frequency-regulation market. Not to get too technical, but the market prices for electricity greatly depend on the desired use. Base-load electricity (from traditional power plants) is cheap, but cannot accommodate sudden changes in demand. Frequency-regulating power is used to respond to sudden spikes or dips in consumption. (If this power is not available, the system cannot maintain the desired 60 Hz current, hence the name, frequency regulation.) Utilities will pay a premium for this short-term power supply to keep the overall system running smoothly. SEPTA now earns up to $200,000 per year as a power provider and has reduced energy use by 20 percent. The Scientific American article also discusses other storage technologies in Los Angeles and Portland.

The Dutch train system, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), faces a similar dilemma to find a profitable use for their excess energy. Netherlands heavily subsidizes their commuter electrical costs to make transit affordable. NS pays approximately 1.5¢ per kWhr instead of the market rate of about 20¢ per kWhr. While this is great for Johann and Jaantje Commuter, there is little incentive for NS to implement new programs or systems to reduce consumption. As an alternative, NS is looking  to convert 30 diesel buses operating out of the Apeldoorn station to electric. The engineers cited in the Climate Progress article estimate that this will save about €8 million (US$11 million) over the next 12 years. Unfortunately, the article did not contain any specifics on whether this is an actual project or merely an engineer’s dream.

Hopefully, projects like these demonstrate viable ways to creatively use readily available but wasted energy.

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Reactions to EPA’s Power Plant Regulations

In the week since Gina McCarthy approved the EPA’s Clean Power Plan draft regulations on state-level carbon emissions, seas of ink and gigabytes of pixels have been spilt in response and commentary. Even though I mention just a couple, this post has passed 700 words, so I’m hardly being laconic.

Glass Half Empty


“Doomed! Doomed, I say! Doomed! Doomed! Doomed!” [As best I can tell, this originated with Private James Frazer in the BBC comedy, “Dad’s Army.” But, this Rugrats YouTube clip is just too good.]

  • Ezra Klein at Vox.com sort of initiated the pessimist camp with his “7 reasons America will fail on climate change.” As other writers noted, it’s not that Ezra is wrong or misrepresented the facts, it’s just that everything is cast in the worst possible light. Agree or disagree, it was a catalyst for further discussion.My one comment is that the tone is almost narcissistic (maybe that’s overstating it, but I can’t think of a better word). It’s all about how the US political system is broken. When he mentions China and other carbon polluters, it’s about how they are in one way subject to our whims and in another way capable of scuttling any substantive progress. The blog title even hints at that with “America will fail.” To cut Ezra some slack, he is the renowned Washington Wonk, so he will write about what he knows best – political dysfunction in the US capital. After a while, that has got to blacken your soul and make you want to kick puppies and pop children’s birthday balloons.
  • Brad Plumer specializes in climate change at Vox.com and has multiple posts on the proposed regulations (quick link to all his posts, here). His first opinion piece is “Obama’s climate agenda is incredibly ambitious. It’s also not nearly enough.” Honestly, that title pretty well sums up the article. The US is no longer the largest carbon polluting country and represents a shrinking fraction of the total global emissions. Even significant domestic reductions will have diminishing returns overall.
  • Brad has another post on the elephant in the room, “Is China planning to put a cap on its carbon emissions?” The big news following the announcement of the draft regulations was that China might move forward on capping their carbon emissions. Brad rightly busts out a barrel of Morton’s salt on this announcement as the comment came from a “senior advisor to the Chinese government.” What little I know of China, that seems to be about the equivalent of a street preacher in downtown Chicago yelling into a bullhorn. Maybe he gets lots of attention, but the Political Machine is going to do its own thing.

Glass Half Full


“Always look on the bright side of life. [Whistling.]” Monty Python cast, “Life of Brian.”

  • Following Ezra’s post, Joe Romm at Climate Progress countered with “7 Reasons America Should Succeed On Climate Change.” Joe basically looks at each of Ezra’s points with a positive spin. Maybe he’s being a bit of a Pollyanna, but he identifies ways to break those very barriers instead of just kvetching about them.
  • Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine summarized the range of the liberal commentary in his post, “Has Obama Saved the Earth, or Doomed It?” I’ve linked to several of the same posts, plus he has a couple more. I can’t top his synthesis, so I’ll just quote him:

If you’re not sure whom to believe, the answer is that you should believe them all, because we’re all saying the same thing.

The only real difference in these putatively different assessments is the standard against which Obama is being held. Has Obama done everything within his power to protect future generations against climate change? Yes. Is everything within his power enough? No.

  • Finally, Paul Krugman has spent much of early June looking at the situation from his economist viewpoint. If you’re not doing so, just read his blog already. For the joy of ‘link-bait’ though, here are his recent op-ed pieces (2 Jun and 9 Jun 2014) and relevant blog posts (2 Jun, 7 Jun, and 10 Jun 2014). He notes that there will be some costs and job losses, but in the grand scheme of things the negatives are actually quite small, even without considering the positives.

If I can close on a cliché, my feeling is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Edit: 17 Jun 14, corrected spelling of Brad Plumer’s name.