solar and other alternative energies for railroads

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solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby neroden » Sat Jul 05, 2008 5:19 pm

Way off-topic, but the economics of solar power are changing rapidly with the development of "thin-film" solar in the last 5-10 years. The thin-film solar panels use sometimes a tenth as much silicon, or less, than traditional solar panels, and less of the other materials too, to produce the same amount of electricity, and last about as long, and are often more weather-resistant. There are something like 5-10 different companies each with a different patented thin-film, all selling out as fast as they can produce. The break-even point where solar doesn't need subsidies to compete with oil for electrical generation has probably already been hit with the recent oil price run-ups, and if not will be hit soon; the point for natural gas hasn't been reached but is very close. (Wind has already passed both of these price points, but suffers from much more irregularity than solar.) Coal will always be cheaper, but coal is an environmental disaster.
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Re: New Zealand Government bids to buy back trains, ferries

Postby george matthews » Sat Jul 05, 2008 6:33 pm

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Re: New Zealand Government bids to buy back trains, ferries

Postby David Benton » Sun Jul 06, 2008 3:36 pm

ive been in the solar industry 12 years , these breakthroughs have always ben just round the corner . the disadvantage with the thin films is they take up alot more surface area (the amphorous ones anyway ) , and silicon is only expensive because theres a shortage of processing facilities . Prices will come down , but theyve got along way to go before theyre competitive with wind etc .
Ive wondered about coating an entire train roof with thin film , but the amount of power generated would ve enough to only do some of the hep load at best . Still on hybrid trains , every bit helps .
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby David Benton » Sun Jul 06, 2008 3:48 pm

split from buy back trains thread . Lets expand this to cover all alternative energies , and energy consumption of trains etc .
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby george matthews » Sun Jul 06, 2008 5:11 pm

David Benton wrote:split from buy back trains thread . Lets expand this to cover all alternative energies , and energy consumption of trains etc .


The main advantage of electrification, as Sir Peter Parker, head of British Rail in the 1970s, observed is that electricity can come from many sources, whereas diesel trains are more or less limited to oil products. Parker campaigned to get more electrification, but didn't achieve the amount he wished for.

France has a large amounts of electric lines - all the main lines and the energy comes almost entirely from nuclear. Switzerland has a completely electrified network and originally it was powered by hydro (danger there of possible droughts from climate change) and now from hydro and nuclear.

A couple of years ago a prominent head of one of the Rail Industry's numerous forums, a former Army Director of Logistics, said that hydrogen fuel cells may be the solution for lines not heavily enough trafficked for full electrification. Fuel cells give the advantages of electric trains without needing the overhead. Unfortunately his remarks were taken up by the Ministry which used them as an excuse to delay more electrification. In reality fuel cells are not ready yet.

Suddenly they are changing policy and hinting (no more) that a full electrification programme may be about to emerge. I hope so. The Great Western and the Midland lines are the most obvious next candidates. One problem of course is a shortage of the engineers needed as the electrification team was broken up after the ECML was done, whereas it should have been kept in being to do different lines in turn.

Parker already knew in 1973 that railways were more flexible than private cars and other road vehicles. I doubt if private cars will be a big part of life in the post-oil age. I see from today's Observer that already it is hard to sell houses in the low density suburbs away from a rail station. The article suggests that some of these suburbs may decline into slums in the near future. I think they should be either bulldozed or have the density of housing increased to the point that a tramway or trolleybus is viable.

My last trip to Florida showed what has happened. Orange farms had been built on but with houses from which only extensive driving can allow people to live there. Also huge numbers of strip malls, each with a Wal-Mart, and other chain shops, all looking the same. A ruined landscape.
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby David Benton » Mon Jul 07, 2008 7:01 am

i wonder how the cost of copper ( which has risen enormously in recent years ) is effecting the economics of electrification . While aluminuim can be used for supporting cables , afaik , copper must be used for the contact wire .
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby george matthews » Mon Jul 07, 2008 11:27 am

David Benton wrote:i wonder how the cost of copper ( which has risen enormously in recent years ) is affecting the economics of electrification . While aluminuim can be used for supporting cables , afaik , copper must be used for the contact wire .

Aluminium can be substituted for some uses. I am not sure about the contact wire. Third rail is being made of steel surfaced with aluminium, I believe.

One big problem is thefts of copper.
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby Vincent » Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:18 am

Aluminum has lower conductivity than copper but the real drawback to aluminum might be its lower tensile strength. Aluminum's conductivity is about 61% compared to a copper wire of equivalent size, but the copper wire is about 3x as strong as an equivalent aluminum wire.

Electrification of the USA's freight rail lines isn't going to happen soon, if ever. Still, there's a lot to be gained from cleaner, more efficient diesel locomotives. Automobiles, trucks, airplanes and diesel locomotives are all cleaner and more efficient than they were 30 years ago, but the design of the diesel locomotive could still be dramatically improved. With the shift to rail of freight and passenger traffic, the market for new diesel locomotives will be strong and the pressure will be on manufacturers to design new motors than use less fuel and emit fewer pollutants. During the last half of the 20th Century, railroading in the USA was a dying industry that usually didn't attract lots of capital investment or "the best and the brightest minds" (with the exception of Mr. Norman, of course :wink: ). But for a variety of reasons, railroading is going to be very important in the new century and new technology is going to be a critical need for the success of the industry.
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby george matthews » Tue Jul 08, 2008 12:00 pm

There's a lot to be said for the 750 V DC Third rail system for trains up to about 90 MPH.

The thing is, as the oil crisis proceeds - I am quite sure that we are near Peak Oil and have probably passed it - there are going to be hard decisions to make. One result is going to be less travel. Another is that what travel there is will have to be supplied by power from other sources. How that is done is still unclear. Nuclear and hydro can power trains, and already does so in most of Europe.

I don't think there will be any left over for private cars. That's a message that is not going to be received easily in the US. I have no car and travel by bicycle, bus and train. Possibly electric cars for local transport might be possible, if the owner uses solar power he collects himself. That's a big investment in the whole system so not everyone will have them.

I am sure there is enough energy available for basic needs, agriculture, food and basic freight transport. But there are many uses of oil that probably won't be available in a post-oil age. RV travelling in vehicles as big as a bus will surely decline quickly. At the beach in Connecticut a few years ago I was amazed at the amount of petrol needed for daily leisure. Boats, jet skis and so on kept up a constant noise. I noticed in a hardware store in Florida that there are no mowers powered by electricity (most are in Britain).

So, I can imagine more electrified railways, perhaps a return of the electric inter-urban, trolleybuses (buses powered from an overhead line instead of diesel). I was once present on a shameful day when Atlanta abandoned its electric bus system to be replaced by what the Mayor triumphantly proclaimed progressive new diesel buses - may he be cursed. No doubt he was doing the work of General Motors.

Iceland has a plan to replace all oil with hydrogen derived from its hydro and geothermal sources. That includes its fishing fleet. I hope they pursue this plan as fast as they can.

My own work was in biogas on a small scale for use in Africa. See my web site google "Musingu biogas"
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby Vincent » Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:06 pm

The United States is going to have to look carefully at its future energy policy. Our current policy focuses on trying to sustain our current practices (suburban home, three car garage and single-occupancy auto commutes) and ignores the idea of shifting the American ideal to a more centralized community with efficient public transportation. But the process won't be simple. The lame attempt to maintain our lifestyle with corn and soybean derived fuels has been a disaster. This year's crop of corn and soybeans has been decimated by the floods in the Midwest. Everyone seems to notice that the polar ice caps are melting away, but nobody seems to wonder where all that water is going to go.

So much population growth has occurred in the Sun Belt states without building the needed transportation, water/sanitation and electrical infrastructure to support the population that it seems almost impossible to find a way out of the problem. The idea that some of the recently built exurban housing is going to become slum land may actually be true. There are suburban regions outside of Seattle that were built during the 1960s when land was cheap and building codes were lax or non-existent that have deteriorated and now are occupied by low-income renters. We call those areas "slumburbs". We can build a new transportation system out to the slumburbs, bring in the bulldozers and renew those neighborhoods, but how wise is it to build electric transport if the electricity will have to be generated by burning more coal or petroleum?

I think that for much of the United States there are still great economies that can be achieved through energy conservation and wiser land use/building practices. Sorry I can't find the source, but I recently read a study that showed that the least energy efficient cities are in the Sun Belt and the most energy efficient cities are located in the northern tier of the United States. That's stupid! With all the new construction in the Sun Belt I would expect that energy use would be lower in the South. Buffalo NY's population has been declining for the last 50 years as people head to the South--blizzards and sub-zero winter temperatures aren't for everyone--but Toronto is usually recognized as a very livable city and it's only about 100 miles from Buffalo. I'm sure that property values are low and workers are plentiful in places like Buffalo and if Toronto can be an efficient and livable city, so can Buffalo. Perhaps we'll soon see a resurgence of the Rust Belt.
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby David Benton » Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:28 am

Vincent wrote:Aluminum has lower conductivity than copper but the real drawback to aluminum might be its lower tensile strength. Aluminum's conductivity is about 61% compared to a copper wire of equivalent size, but the copper wire is about 3x as strong as an equivalent aluminum wire.

aluminuim cable for overhead use usually has a high tensile steel wire or wire rope as one or more of the strands . au has about 60% of the conductivity of cu , add the steel wires and you have a wie thats alot bigger than a copper wire .
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby george matthews » Wed Jul 09, 2008 6:31 am

Vincent wrote:The United States is going to have to look carefully at its future energy policy. Our current policy focuses on trying to sustain our current practices (suburban home, three car garage and single-occupancy auto commutes) and ignores the idea of shifting the American ideal to a more centralized community with efficient public transportation. But the process won't be simple. The lame attempt to maintain our lifestyle with corn and soybean derived fuels has been a disaster. This year's crop of corn and soybeans has been decimated by the floods in the Midwest. Everyone seems to notice that the polar ice caps are melting away, but nobody seems to wonder where all that water is going to go.

So much population growth has occurred in the Sun Belt states without building the needed transportation, water/sanitation and electrical infrastructure to support the population that it seems almost impossible to find a way out of the problem. The idea that some of the recently built exurban housing is going to become slum land may actually be true. There are suburban regions outside of Seattle that were built during the 1960s when land was cheap and building codes were lax or non-existent that have deteriorated and now are occupied by low-income renters. We call those areas "slumburbs". We can build a new transportation system out to the slumburbs, bring in the bulldozers and renew those neighborhoods, but how wise is it to build electric transport if the electricity will have to be generated by burning more coal or petroleum?

I think that for much of the United States there are still great economies that can be achieved through energy conservation and wiser land use/building practices. Sorry I can't find the source, but I recently read a study that showed that the least energy efficient cities are in the Sun Belt and the most energy efficient cities are located in the northern tier of the United States. That's stupid! With all the new construction in the Sun Belt I would expect that energy use would be lower in the South. Buffalo NY's population has been declining for the last 50 years as people head to the South--blizzards and sub-zero winter temperatures aren't for everyone--but Toronto is usually recognized as a very livable city and it's only about 100 miles from Buffalo. I'm sure that property values are low and workers are plentiful in places like Buffalo and if Toronto can be an efficient and livable city, so can Buffalo. Perhaps we'll soon see a resurgence of the Rust Belt.

There is a problem I have noticed in the US. Quite a few people have solar collectors on the roof to heat water, especially in Florida. But in my opinion these are so inefficient that they are a waste of money. A proper solar water heater needs a glass or plastic cover to keep the heat in. The ones I have seen in Florida and elsewhere have none. This may be the reason I have been told by people in Florida that they don't want them.
My wife's cousin asked me to look at a "pool heater" she had in Connecticut. It had no cover. It didn't work. The people selling these should be forbidden to do so.

I have one in Britain which heats the water from 21 March to 21 September (if it's not totally cloudy as it is today). It has a plastic cover which keeps the water hot. Florida could get a huge part of its energy needs from solar power.

Houses can be designed not to need air conditioning. There are plenty of books about how to do it. The way is to stop thinking that the basic house can be built without change in places with different climates and just add heat or a/c as desired.

http://www.angelfire.com/mac/egmatthews/worldinfo/problems/world.html
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby gt7348b » Wed Jul 09, 2008 9:45 am

It is cloudy in Britain? :P Who knew?

Seriously, working in Atlanta there are couple of interesting things relevant to this discussion. First, one of our future "slumburbs" is actually have a straw poll on joining MARTA metro system on July 15th. Secondly, down in south Georgia in Mitchell County, they're just about to open a bio-fuels processing facility and trying to use pine chips and other non-food bios for diesel which I think could potentially work for our transit fleet (i.e. Emory University is moving to B25 using its cafeteria waste). Back to rails, one of the political arguments here in Georgia is how to get out rural politicians to see a benefit for rail, particularly commuter rail for Atlanta. My thought is agreeing to use some portion of the biofuel output from the new plants in rural Georgia for fueling the trains - since Norfolk Southern and CSX are probably unlikely to agree to electrify their lines through Atlanta. Any thoughts from this forum?
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby Vincent » Wed Jul 09, 2008 10:15 am

Ironically, if Texans want to see how to lower their energy bills, they should look at George Bush's Crawford Ranch. It's a very efficient architectural model, although having to take a 747 to and from work is a bit wasteful.
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Re: solar and other alternative energies for railroads

Postby george matthews » Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:30 pm

gt7348b wrote:Seriously, working in Atlanta there are couple of interesting things relevant to this discussion. First, one of our future "slumburbs" is actually have a straw poll on joining MARTA metro system on July 15th. Secondly, down in south Georgia in Mitchell County, they're just about to open a bio-fuels processing facility and trying to use pine chips and other non-food bios for diesel which I think could potentially work for our transit fleet (i.e. Emory University is moving to B25 using its cafeteria waste). Back to rails, one of the political arguments here in Georgia is how to get out rural politicians to see a benefit for rail, particularly commuter rail for Atlanta. My thought is agreeing to use some portion of the biofuel output from the new plants in rural Georgia for fueling the trains - since Norfolk Southern and CSX are probably unlikely to agree to electrify their lines through Atlanta. Any thoughts from this forum?

On my biogas page I have a link to a BBC report of a train in Sweden running on biogas from a slaughterhouse. This does not detract from food supplies. However, it is a one car Diesel unit, not a long train. But everyone who uses solar derived fuels knows that the efficiency of use is vital. Lighting must come from the most abstemious methods such as LEDs. Heavy trains of the US sort should be avoided. Fuel costs alone ought to press the US government to changing its policy on heavy trains.

I think for main lines with more than four trains an hour overhead electric is the method of choice, preferably with regenerative braking. This of course should mean freight as well as passenger. I hate being in a diesel train under the wires or over the third rail (intercity from Bournemouth to Birmingham nowadays is a diesel train the whole way. Twenty years ago under BR it could be an electro-diesel to Basingstoke on the third rail, diesel to Reading, Mainline diesel to Coventry, electric from there. Admittedly, I only once had an electro-diesel to Reading. I was most excited I can tell you. At that time I was studying in Birmingham and visiting my home near Bournemouth at weekends - something not easily affordable nowadays.

I think Iceland is going to be the testbed for hydrogen technology. Pity they have no trains (but a line to the airport may be on the way).
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