fuel efficiency

Shell team proves driving smarter can save 30%

Mileage has been an obsession of mine since I started driving. Back then 50 cents a gallon was considered outrageous.

I lived out in the sticks, about 10 miles from the outskirts of town when I got my first (and only) motorcycle, a Yamaha 100. It sipped fuel. Good thing because the tank only held a little more than a half gallon.

But the bike was only good for summer months.

How not to save fuel

At 17, I purchased something winter-worthy and that I could afford -- a 1963 Ford Galaxie for $300. The dark blue four-door featured a 352 cubic-inch big block with a two-barrel carburator and a two-speed automatic transmission.

Efficiency wasn't in its repertoire. I could watch the needle drop during any kind of serious acceleration. This was unfortunate as I drove amongst a lot of Mopar and Chevy enthusiasts.

Shell demonstrates how it's done

I thought of this little anecdote while listening to Lindsey McAndrews of Shell Canada Ltd. explain the Shell Smarter Driver Challenge, which reportedly has set a Canadian record for fuel efficiency by driving across Canada from Halifax, N.S. to Vancouver, B.C. in a 2012 Volkswagen Passat.

"Canadians tend to buy the bigger vehicles," McAndrews says, explaining the ample leg and elbow room. "It's going to be a realistic demonstration of how far that car can go using the least amount of fuel."

According to globalenergyworld.com, the team shaved its gasoline consumption (the team only used Shell New Nitrogen Enriched Bronze gas) by 30 percent. The coast-to-coast jaunt covered about 6,300 kilometers and consumed less than five tanks of fuel.

"Throughout the trip, we were in awe of not only Canada's scenery but also our team of drivers," say John and Helen Taylor, challenge coaches. "They proved that anyone can follow these 15 simple techniques and see significant improvements in their fuel economy."

The team of drivers included McAndrews and other Shell representatives, Alex Debogorski of "Ice Road Truckers" fame, Globe and Mail automotive columnist Lorraine Sommerfeld, Shell's Energy Diet Challenge winner Simone Kitchen-Kuiack and representatives from environmental non-government organizations Pollution Probe and the Pembina Institute, Global Energy World reports.

Drive smoothly

Those 15 tips from Shell are pretty basic, including things like driving smoothly and keeping your car maintained.

"I didn't realize fun was that much work," says Debogorski.

I drive a 2000 Passat station wagon, so this intrigues me. I also prefer a larger vehicle. Maybe it's blowback from those years in the Galaxie. Of course, I also love my 74 Super Beetle.

Driving sensibly is a challenge, but this team shows that it can be done. And shaving a third off your gas bill is one heck of an incentive.

Make my day: 7 reasons to be encouraged about clean energy

The economy may look like it's been on the losing end of a street brawl, but optimism could be lurking in the shadows.

Certainly the mood is glum. The news, when it isn't fixating on celebrity missteps or political scandal, highlights Greek default, an irritated 99 percent and prospects for job creation that appear as likely as J. Edgar Hoover returning to run the FBI.

Maybe I'm biased or I'm watching too many trailers for the new Clint Eastwood film. But I'm seeing things differently.

Perhaps it's just me, or my co-worker Sandy Nax. But we're seeing some pretty positive stuff coming from our perch in the green energy sector.

Reason No.1: Solar flare. Here's a landmark. A San Jose Mercury News post San Jose Mercury Newsmarks the achievement of California reaching 1 gigawatt of installed solar. As reporter Dana Hull says, it's 1,000 megawatts and "roughly the size of two coal-fired power plants."

Sun is good. Coal not so much, even though it's a domestic energy source. Regardless, the news is huge. And solar growth is expected to continue. The reason some solar manufacturers -- think failed Solyndra for a moment -- are having a tough time doesn't have much to do with popularity of the renewable energy.

There's nothing wrong with sales. It's price that's killing these companies. As predicted, the cost of solar and wind prices have dropped, nearing ever closer to energy produced by fossil fuels. Parity it's called.

And it can't come too soon.

Solar is dominating my interest lately partly because I've been swayed by an argument by Derek Abbott, a professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. In a series of YouTube posts, he argues that enough energy from the sun could be easily captured to power the world's energy need of 15 terawatts.

Abbott believes solar thermal is the best option as it is the cleanest to produce. It requires no photovoltaic panels just mirrors and a system for superheating a substance to produce heat and subsequently energy.

Job rating: Excellent.

Reason No. 2: Concentrated or thermal solar. And that leads to this forecast from CleanTechies.com that concentrated solar is on the verge of becoming a serious contender in the clean energy spectrum. The piece says concentrated solar's simplicity will help sell it to consumers. "Solar thermal has been around for decades and is extremely reliable," CleanTechies says.

The positives are similar to those across the green energy spectrum: Costs are decreasing, state and local governments are getting interested in assisting projects, systems can be applied to commercial buildings, cooling is an option (although I'm still uncertain how that works), more people are getting into the business and innovation is making systems better.

Job rating: There's potential.

Reason No. 3: Solar mountain. Got a landfill? Who doesn't? They're not pretty. However, in Conley, Ga. Republic Services has transformed 9 million cubic yards of trash into a solar energy farm. The solid waste company covered the massive hill of garbage with a geomembrane on which it attached thin-film solar panels.

The panels produce 1 megawatt, but more could be added, according to Silvio Marcacci at cleantechnica.com. The site is one of just a few in the country. However, its success could drive more to adopt the concept.

"A lot of these landfills are built in urban settings, and they’re close to transmission lines," Tony Walker of Republic Services tells Marcacci. “We think this type of system can be built across the country."

Maybe so. There certainly is a lot of garbage.

Job rating: Fermenting.

Reason No. 4: Decentralized energy. I first read of this concept after stumbling across a report by sustainable energy advocate and writer Al Weinrub. He argues that decentralized energy, or putting renewable systems in as many places in a community as possible, generates wealth, spurs economic revitalization and helps adapt to climate change.

Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, says in a piece on Huffington Post that decentralized and renewable energy are the key to solving the looming crisis of sustainability. He says that a massive public-private partnership is needed to develop smart-grid, distributed generation technology via tax credit and other government and private sector driven incentives.

"Ultimately, each home and business should be capable of generating, storing and sharing energy," Cohen says. "Solar, wind, geothermal, and perhaps some other technology yet to be invented must be subsidized to make them cheaper than fossil fuels."

He says at some point, the subsidies will no longer be needed.

But change is coming or at least it should. The air just can't take what we're pumping into by way of coal fires, automobile exhaust and general toxic-laden combustion. And that brings me to my next point.

Job rating: Strong.

Reason No. 5: The real cost of fossil fuels. According to the most recent World Energy Outlook report by the International Energy Agency, investing in clean energy now is far more effective than attempting to clean up the mess later.

Eric Wesoff of greentechmedia.com pored over the report and came up with this quote from Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist: "As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the 'lock-in' of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals."

Wesoff writes: "For every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions."

Succinct point. It makes me wonder how politicians who say they would obliterate any regulations in favor of jobs will be viewed in 10 years. The regulation busters line up on one side of the aisle, but both parties are guilty of promoting ill-fated policies that add to the nation's graying skies.

The jobs that apparently need fewer regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or other agencies are noble but usually controversial. They include mining coal from mountaintops, drilling offshore for oil, tapping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, building a cross-country straw to suck out Canada's oil sand and allowing the hydraulic fracturing.

Job creation can be done other ways. I recall sitting on spit on Nantucket one summer with my brother-in-law. We were inspired by the long delayed Cape Wind offshore turbines. He speculated that President Bush would have produced a far longer lasting legacy had he established just a smidgen of support for alternative energies rather than invading Iraq or even if he did.

Bush had the right idea -- domestic energy security. Just a different way of getting there.

Job rating: Depends on political winds.
Reason No. 6: Energy and fuel efficiency. Energy author Daniel Yergin writes in a piece on Huffington Post about how Boeing's Dreamliner won the hearts of airline executives not with its speed but with its 20 percent better fuel efficiency. "The airlines were voting their pocketbooks," he says.

Nearly every week, another big publicly traded Wall Street powerhouse embraces the cost savings of installing energy efficient lighting and electrical upgrades. And many are taking the concept further, entering the tricky yet individually lucrative realm of sustainability. Big companies that see the light have discovered not only savings in multiple aspects of their operations but have learned to reap the value of the public goodwill that comes with it.

Home builders are another group that has found value in efficiencies. Commercial builders also have come aboard, slowly incorporating building information modeling into design to reduce energy and operations costs with a slew of new technologies and products.

The EPA reports that more than 400 home builders have "committed to meeting the updated and more rigorous requirements for new homes that earn the Energy Star label in 2012." Those builders discovered value by inching closer to homes that use less energy. Net-zero homes may not be far off.

The EPA says that since 1995, about 1.2 million new homes have earned its Energy Star rating, which translates to savings of about $350 million on utility bills. The list of builders includes six of the country’s largest: Ashton Woods Homes, Beazer Homes, KB Home, Meritage Homes, M/I Homes and NVR Inc.

Job rating: Good but depends on consumer acceptance.

Reason No. 7: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This particular topic is close to home for me. I am employed because of stimulus money. My mission these past two years has been to maximize kilowatt hour savings at 36 cities and three counties in California's San Joaquin Valley. On that front, I'm getting closer.

My team and I will get it done. We will help our jurisdictions save money and start them on a diet of energy efficiency and clean energy. My boss says it's pre-ordained.

Others have done it. The 112-page report, "Profiles of Local Clean Energy Leadership: How America's Cities and Counties are Using Federal Energy Block Grants to Create Jobs, Save Energy and Prevent Pollution," is full of stories about how other cities spent their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant allocations.

To me, it made a lot of sense. I've been immersed in this world for many moons, speaking a language of kWh, T8s, VFDs, SEER, LEED and even less interesting terms.

What's great about the report is that it shows cities beaten roughly about the head and shoulders by the economy can navigate the many bureaucratic requirements and restrictions and actually implement money meant to do them good. I hope to pass these success stories onto my cities and counties.

Job rating: Steady.

Yep. We can save energy. We can figure out how to be better stewards of our communities and nation. Every one of the issues I listed translates to development and growth. Some could be really significant. Maybe we could clean that air a bit and get some jobs at the same time.

New car consumers to get more than MPG

A proposed overhaul of existing fuel economy ratings would add environmental performance and cost comparisons to new cars' window stickers.

Vehicles also would be issued a letter grade.

That means along with checking out miles-per-gallon ratings, consumers at new car lots also would get the chance to study information on a model's smog production and its impact on public health. The proposals were issued Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We are asking the American people to tell us what they need to make the best economic and environmental decisions when buying a new car,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement. “New fuel economy labels will keep pace with the new generation of fuel efficient cars and trucks rolling off the line and provide simple, straightforward updates to inform consumers about their choices in a rapidly changing market.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said it's all about new technology: electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. “We need to provide consumers with labels that include fuel economy and environmental information so that buyers can make better informed decisions when purchasing new vehicles,” he said.

There are two proposed labels. The agencies request that those interested review the labels at http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/ and submit comments to newlabels@epa.gov.

The one that jumps out offers a letter grade prominently. How willing will consumers be to purchase a vehicle that pulls a D? Depends. Does that D also pull a big boat all the way to Shaver Lake or the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta? Or does it tow a horse or steer trailer in high winds up the pass?

Then the answer is: Give me towing capacity or I'll get a truck with a rebuilt 454.

DOT and EPA say the changes are part of an effort to follow the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which specifically calls on them to rate available vehicles according to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming pollutants. The new design also is to provide consumers with an estimated fuel cost savings over five years compared to an average gasoline-powered vehicle of the same model year.

For electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the agencies are proposing to show energy use by translating electricity consumption into MPG equivalent and energy use in terms of kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.

The moves are sure to generate a lot of debate. Here's a past back and forth on edmunds.com between folks who appear to be from the automotive press discussing the finer points of measuring fuel consumption and establishing ratings.

Hyundai pledges average 50 mpg, debuts hybrid in fall

Hyundai said today it will boost the overall fuel efficiency of its fleet to at least 50 mpg by 2025.

Hyundai. Yes, the Korean automaker.

But the directive makes sense, judging by the way Hyundai's done with its fuel-friendly model line-up. Company officials say market share is up 50 percent, and Hyundai tops the Environmental Protection Agency's corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, rating in the agency's most recent auto trends report with 30.9 mpg.

"Getting to 50 mpg and beyond seems like a huge leap, but by making this commitment and aligning our R&D initiatives now, we know we can get there," said John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America president and CEO, in a statement.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA now require automakers to achieve a CAFE rating of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Hyundai's plans to reach its goal include improvements and innovation in gasoline-direct injection systems, turbocharging, electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids and lightweight materials and design.

This fall, Hyundai will launch the company's first hybrid in the United States. Officials said the "Sonata Hybrid features a 2.4-liter Theta II 4-cylinder gasoline engine mated to an electric motor-boosted 6-speed automatic transmission and incorporates an industry-first lithium polymer battery, which packs greater power density and stability into a smaller, more package-efficient space."

Also coming out this fall are Chevy's Volt and Nissan's Leaf. Read more here.