Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sustainable Housing and the Global Oil Peak

I'm posting the following question from Stuart Rose that was posed to the TRANSP-TDM listserv today and has generated some additional discussion about whether or when the global peak in oil will be reached.

"I'm currently completing development of a prototype cluster of sustainable houses. The houses provide their own power, water, hot water, etc. It's not that difficult. However, since this effort began, about five years ago, the definition of what "sustainable" includes has expanded. The next generation of these houses will need to take the form of small communities that are totally self-reliant ... for power, water, wastewater treatment, solid waste management ... and even food.

My guess is, we hit Global Peak Oil in 2000, when Saudi peaked. We're already experiencing all the early signs of what will be a post-oil economy ... and world. Within 3-5 years, semis will likely be virtually gone from highways. Transportation will need to shift, to respond to development of many small communities - much like the pre-industrial revolution hamlets, except with most of modern technology.

The best way, on the surface, to connect smaller communities with a larger one would be rapid transit. Then, hi-speed rail between major cities. And probably only air for trips over 1,000 miles or so. But I'm not a multimodal transportation planner.

My questions:

1. What criteria determine when different modes are justified? Population numbers? Density? Distance?

2. How would these modes be funded? Government seems fairly inept at managing a rail system; ours is one of the worst in the world. How to determine what role is best for private companies and what for government?

3. As these small communities evolve, they could connect via electric car or bus to small towns, of perhaps 8,000 to 80,000 or more. Would counties simply somehow maintain small roads for that connectivity?

4. Do you know of one or two resource people who might be able to describe how such a pattern would - or would not - be justified? initiated? funded? managed?

In planning for these small sustainable communities, I also have to think about their context - connectedness to other communities.

Thanks for whatever help you might be able to provide."

Stuart W. Rose, Ph.D.
Garden Atriums

7 comments:

Hugh McNIchol said...

Stuart,

Like a previous responder, I question several of your initial assumptions, the supply of oil and especially the idea that truck traffic will disappear in 3 to 5 years .... modern manufacturing depends of the flexibility that only a robust trucking industry can provide. We may see some reduction in the use of trucks for long haul freight, but probably no more than 5 or 10 percent in the short term. There will be a need for significant relocation of manufacturing facilities to areas that can be serviced by other freight modes before we will see a significan reduction is the use of trucks for hauling freight, and that isn't going to happen in a 3 to 5 year time frame, of even in a 20 year time frame.

As for the specific questions you asked, here are my answers. I would suggest that you focus on locating your new communities adjacent to exising infrastructure. Even better, instead of creating new communities, try to adapt your approach to retrofitting existing communities, replacing old structures with new, or using your approach in rebuilding communities after natural disasters, like tornadoes, fires, and even hurricanes.

Here's my annswers to the questions you posed:
1. What criteria determine when different modes are justified? Population numbers? Density? Distance?

There are any number of criteria that come into play, ranging from policy decisions to provide the modes, down to the individual's decision to choose from competing modes based on their own "enlightened self interest." As long as citizens continue to have access to a voting booth, we cannot dictate the use of certain modes for certain activites. When looking at transportation modes, the first and formost criteria will be the availability of the appropriate infrastructure, ie: you can't have air travel if you don't have at least one runway (airport).

Population, Desity and Destination all play a significant role in how often the mode will be provided and the size of the modal container. If you have a lot of people going from point a to point b at the same time, some kind of mass transport is more likely to attract users than if all the people in point a are traveling to different destinations, then some form of personal transport is more likely to be utilized.

2. How would these modes be funded? Government seems fairly inept at managing a rail system; ours is one of the worst in the world. How to determine what role is best for private companies and what for government?

Firt of all, the U.S. government doesn't manage a rail ststem. It has, for the last 30 years of so, attempted to manage passenger service on a rail system that is largely owned by a number of different private sector companies that abandonded rail passenger service because it didn't generate sufficient profits. Use of the the rails by AMTRAK is, and has always been, subservient to the freight needs on any particular line. Any time a conflict occurs between freight traffic and passenger traffic, the freight traffic is serviced first. As a result, right from the beginning AMTRAK has found it difficult to meet its timetables, thereby acquiring a reputation for reliability. Secondly, on many lines, AMTRAK is unable to schedule passenger service at times that would be more attractive to its potential customers, because of the freight schedules of the railroads. While I do believe the AMTRAK could have done some things better, I think they've done a more than adequate job, considering the way they were handcuffed right from the start.

That aside... if a particular mode can be operated at a profit, then the private sector will step in and provide the mode. Modes that have a reasonable ability to collect enough fares to offset operating costs are the easiest ones for government to provide. Modes that cannot cover operating costs will only be provided by goverment, however, there will be constant questioning of the rationale for providing such a mode, and those types of services are the most likely to be abandoned in any budget crisis.

3. As these small communities evolve, they could connect via electric car or bus to small towns, of perhaps 8,000 to 80,000 or more. Would counties simply somehow maintain small roads for that connectivity?
Counties and townships already maintain a network of small roads. If you are creating new additions to the existing network, they may or may not agree to accept the new roads as part of the existing system. Different counties even in the same state have different attitudes toward expansion of the local road network

Hugh McNIchol said...

A couple of typo corrections - there are a couple places in my previous post where it reads "of" and it should read "or"

And in the answer to Question #3 it reads:
"AMTRAK has found it difficult to meet its timetables, thereby acquiring a reputation for reliability."

That should read "a reputation for unreliability."

Sorry about that!

Chris Hagelin said...

I have done a lot of research on the concept of peak oil, and domestic and global oil supply and demand issues. I think two of the most interesting developments are Matthew Simmons new book, Twilight in the Desert, about the future peaking of Saudi oil, and Chevron's Will You Join Us campaign. If you look at Chervon's website, here is something you will find.

“Many of the world’s oil and gas fields are maturing. And new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract—physically, technically, economically, and politically. When growing demand meets tighter supplies, the result is more competition for the same resources.”

When a major oil corporation starts stating things like this and advocating conservation, there has to be a reason. Perhaps it is that, 33 of the 48 largest oil producing nations have peaked (also from the Chevron website). If you would like more information on my research, just let me know and I will forward you my ACT 2005 paper on "TDM, Oil Dependence, and National Security.

CHRIS

Phil Winters said...

The following is being reposted here from an earlier post to the TRANSP-TDM listserv.

"Some of the premises formulating the basis for this initiative are
debatable, thereby jeopardizing its success.

Saudis now appear to be suggesting there are decades worth of oil to
exploit. See web link below.

http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article315546.ece

Many 'experts' see the period of peak oil to still be in the future.
See page 19 of the following pdf document.

http://www.physics.unc.edu/about/robertsonseminars/hirschstudy.pdf

As reported in the following US Bureau of Transportation Statistics
website, semi-trucks move a significant percentage of total freight
tonnage in the United States. To suggest they will be gone from the
nation's highways within 3-5 years dramatically begs the question, "What
replaces them?"

http://www.bts.gov/programs/freight_transportation/html/trucking.html

Regards,

Bob Ancar
New York State Department of Transportation
Office of Policy and Performance"

Jack M. Nilles said...

Comments below (none of them directed to Dr. Rose's original questions) [first posted to the TRANSP-TDM listserv].

Robert Ancar (comments in italics:) wrote:

Some of the premises formulating the basis for this initiative are debatable, thereby jeopardizing its success.

Saudis now appear to be suggesting there are decades worth of oil to exploit. See web link below.
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article315546.ece


The key item in this article is the claim that there are 3 trillion additional barrels of reserves. Most authorities to date have been arguing about whether there were 1.9 or 2.0 trillion barrels total, of which we have extracted about half, hence the peak oil conclusion. The alleged Exxon claim amounts to saying that there were 4 trillion barrelso originally and that we have used only about one quarter of the total in the past 100 (or so) years. Sure enough, Exxon's 2004 Energy Outlook presentation seems to indicate that. That, in turn, suggests that the peak may not occur, even with increasing global demand, for many decades. That indeed is amazing, not only for thinking about energy futures but carbon-induced global warming. We may be off the hook for petroleum energy supplies but on the hook for violent climate change if we don't alter something.

Many 'experts' see the period of peak oil to still be in the future. See page 19 of the following pdf document.


http://www.physics.unc.edu/about/robertsonseminars/hirschstudy.pdf



Most of the experts argue about a band of 5 to 10 years for the peak to be reached, with this year being at or near the start of the band. The uncertainty is related to the 2.0 versus 1.9 trillion barrel estimate.

Shell has a higher number but it's Shell, among other large producers, that have recently seriously lowered their reserve estimates.

So what does Exxon know that the rest of the industry doesn't?

To be conservative, until I get some more evidence of the Exxon position, I'll stick with Colin Campbell's estimates, which happen to be close to those of BP.


As reported in the following US Bureau of Transportation Statistics
website
, semi-trucks move a significant percentage of total freight tonnage in the United States. To suggest they will be gone from the nation's highways within 3-5 years dramatically begs the question, "What replaces them?"

http://www.bts.gov/programs/freight_transportation/html/trucking.html


I agree that the inertia of the system will take longer than a few years to dissipate but consider the effects that Katrina has already had in raising prices and altering behavior because of the impacts on petroleum.

Jack M. Nilles
JALA International, Inc.

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