Climate action 02

Autonomous cars, housing, edible insects, high speed rail and more:

Autonomous cars have the potential to have  a major impact on road transport.  Even more so if it is combined with narrow track vehicle designs. Depending on the sophistication, the move to autonomous vehicles would eventually eliminate driver caused accidents, allow cars to be used by people who are not fit to drive existing vehicles, use inter vehicle communication to increase road carrying capacity while making car sharing far more practical, and……
There are an extraordinary number of companies converging on the idea of self-driving cars from all sorts of different angles, but the undisputed leader of the pack is Google, whose self-driving vehicles have logged a total of nearly 700,000 development miles. In a video released today, Google shows some fantastic visualizations to demonstrate what the car is seeing in complex traffic situations. You can watch how the car handles roadworks, level crossings, complex intersections and a range of interactions with cyclists – including recognizing their hand signals.

In this image, the car has spotted a roadworks scenario blocking the road. It sees the signage in yellow, plus a bunch of cars in purple, and a group of witches hats in orange. It’s approaching the scene with caution and has not yet made a decision to proceed – the red line indicates a barrier the car will not cross.

One of the problems with wind power is that the current crop of wind power generators are something most of don’t want within line of sight and definitely don’t want next door.  Noise, radar interference, visual pollution and wildlife injuries are all grist to the nimby mill. Unlike rooftop solar, conventional wind power has been stuck with the high cost of power distribution via the grid.
The nimby problem might be overcome by using something like this fully enclosed, bladeless, virtually silent wind power generator.
Virtually silent, fully enclosed, bladeless wind turbines on the way
The above design is not the only approach being used to make wind power a better neighbour.   For example, the windmill below is claimed to be the world’s quietest wind turbine:
The Eco Whisper comes in two sizes: a 6.5 meter diameter that generates up to 20 kW, and a 3.25 meter diameter that generates up to 5 kW. The former stands 21 meters tall, while the latter is 18 meters tall.
I got 563,000 hits when I ggogled “quiet wind turbine.”
Sweden’s Green City Ferries is preparing to launch what it claims is the world’s first “supercharged” electric passenger ferry. Carrying 100 passengers between Solna Strand and Gamla Stan, the Movitz will need just 10 minutes to charge its batteries between 1-hour long service runs. That’s perfect for a ferry operation, because it means it’ll be charged by the time passengers have embarked and disembarked. With extremely low maintenance requirements and reduced running costs, the ferry will reportedly save some 50,000 liters of diesel and 130 tons of carbon emissions into the bargain.
Carrying 100 passengers between Solna Strand and Gamla Stan, the zero-emissions 'Movitz' w...
4.  The average Australian house size is the largest in the world and getting bigger, reports Amelia Borg.

Over the last fifteen years, the average newly built Australian house has grown by over twenty-seven m2 (or 10 percent) to 243.6 square metres by mid 2011. At the same time, the actual household size has decreased from 2.7 to 2.6 people, which implies we need even more houses as people choose to live alone.

243.6 m2 works out at 93.7 m2 per person.  To put that in context a bedroom in our house big enough to take two single beds was 7.5 m2.  The 2011 figure equals 12.5 x7.5 m2 rooms per person.

Perhaps we could start dealing with the housing crisis by making it was easier to convert large houses into a number of smaller units.

Like this 29 m2 one:
The designers fitted a bed area over a wardrobe, accessible via a small wooden staircase

3XA maximized the space available in this small urban apartment by creating a “semi-mezzanine,” as the designers like to describe it. This was necessary as the ceiling height of 3.7 m (12 ft) didn’t allow a proper second floor, or indeed, mezzanine.

Therefore, the designers fitted a bed area over the main wardrobe, which is accessible via a small wooden staircase. The kitchen and dining area are also combined into one, and a blind door was also fitted to a spare wall, in a bid to increase the feeling of space.

The apartment was completed in 2012.

6. Edible insects

I am old enough to remember when most Australians thought squid was bait, not the key ingredient for salt and pepper calamari.  We have a similar attitude now to deliberately eating insects even though NPR says: “2 billion people worldwide already enjoy insects with gusto — in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia…..  Among the most popular of the 1,900 species consumed are beetles, caterpillars, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets.”
Insects use less land, water and other resources than alternative sources of protein.  For example, the headline link contained this diagram showing what could be produced from a 100 US gallons (378.5 litres) of water:
One advantage of insect farming is that it can be quite small scale and, in the case of crickets, some of the food can come in the form of food scraps.  (I got over 7 million hits when I googled “farming edible insects”.)  If you have a crickets farm you might find “How to prepare and cook crickets‘ useful.
Climate Spectator  had this to say:
“To get an idea of how far the RET has taken us, the table below shows average solar PV system prices (in $/W terms) for March 2014. The first column shows current average system prices (from April 2014) with STC value included, while the second column shows the prices for the month if the SRES didn’t exist. The third column contains subsidised solar system prices from August 2012, when Solar Choice began keeping records. (Figures reflect non-weighted average prices for all of Australia’s major cities mentioned above.)

Graph for What would a solar system cost without the RET?

The effect of removing the STC is significant:  27% for 1.5 kW installations  39% for 5 kW.

My personal view is that the FIT tariff should be determined by some form of auction/competitive tendering. In theory, if this happens getting rid of the STC would simply mean that the FIT for new installations would be higher while the return on capital would remain the same.  Problem is that the increase in upfront cost may put some investors off.

8. BZE has released its high speed rail report

$84 billion total estimated construction cost including rolling stock, project management and contingency
Melbourne-Sydney is estimated to cost $40 billion, and Sydney-Brisbane $44 billion. Of this, $18 billion of the total estimated construction cost is required for entering the cities of Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane.

The case for high speed rail will be stronger if it is built as an alternative to Abbott’s Badgery Creek airport.  Then again, other nasty people are suggesting that the new airport at Badgerys Creek isn’t really needed anyway.  Abbott is being all macho as the hero that has finally made the second airport decision after 30 years.  The real lesson for a more thoughtful leader might be that people have been claiming for thirty years that the second airport is needed even though experience shows that ways have been found to boost airport capacity.  I have read that Sydney airport’s plane movements per runway are low by world standards.

7 thoughts on “Climate action 02”

  1. Lots of interesting stuff there, John.

    On houses, the amount of space taken in Australia per person is extraordinary. When I was first married there was a concept of a ‘first home’ of about 10 squares with three bedrooms to accommodate comfortably two adults and up to four kids. Now the average person has a similar amount of space.

    Every few weeks I drive past the first home I ever owned. It has been extended at least twice and would be about 70% larger now.

  2. A 10 square home is about 93 m2 Brian. That would have been a 3 bedroom house without ensuite I assume. That would have been similar to the first and only house we built. WE could have lived reasonably well in something smaller and something much much smaller if it had been a smart house that allowed beds to be moved out of way during the day etc. etc.
    A number of things have changed since then:
    1. The relative value of land and house were very different. Our first house was a $9,500 house built on a block of land we bought for $700. The combined cost was about 3 times my salary. Now the cost of land is usually much more than the cost of the house itself. We wouldn’t have built a $9500 house on a $30,000 block of land. 2. Commonwealth loan policy limited loans to 25% of the husband’s salary. (Wives were expected to get pregnant.) This limit on borrowing kept land prices and house size under control.

  3. Yes, John, the first house I owned was 10 squares, 3 bedrooms, no en suite. It also lacked a dining room, but had a largish kitchen with an eat-in table. One car garage underneath (sloping block), but also a space big enough for a table tennis table. We bought it furnished (which is unusual) for $12,000 in 1969.

    Pleasantly set on 27 perches with a willow tree and a poinciana (both now gone) in the front yard!

  4. Edible insects: Used to enjoy witchetties – believe that had a fairly high nutritional value too.

    Sensible house designs: Great and comfortable …. but will never happen in Australia while every economic parasite in the country gets filthy rich out of designing, approving, financing and building whopping big, horribly inefficient bludgertoriums.

    Wind power: See – it can be done.

  5. Graham: A lot of new foods either come in with immigrants or start as a special food in restaurants and spread from there. Captain Cook got his crew to eat sauerkraut by first serving it in the officers mess then “giving in” when the sailors wanted what the officers were getting.
    Insects may also get in as part of an idealistic push for those who don’t want to vegetarians. Anyone for “insect Friday”?
    You are right about housing. Developers and councils should not be allowed to put artificial restrictions on what people accommodation can put on a block of land. Australian minimum standards should be about safety and health, not the value of the neighbours house.

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