Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


February 10, 2011

Prius Winter Mileage Trick

Category: Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 6:13 pm

Prius in Winter

Beat The Cold

I started a new job this year, and unlike my former commute (downstairs) I have to drive. To my utter horror, my mileage dropped below 40MPG after the first few weeks. But I fixed that.

The Prius will normally turn off the engine when the car is stopped, which, for my commute is frequently — many lights, and heavy traffic in some parts. But in the winter, until the car has warmed up, the Prius decides to keep the engine on. Idling in traffic isn’t good.

But, if I turn off the heater, off goes the engine. Ha!

My mileage this week has been back up to normal (a little lower than the normal 50+ MPG in winter — in cold climates they change the fuel mix in winter so cars will run properly, even if less efficiently).

So when the car is moving and the engine is on, I turn on the heater, while slowed or stopped, I turn it off. By 10 or 15 minutes the engine is hot enough that the engine will stop on its own. It takes a little longer to warm up the car, and sometimes you need to turn on the AC to prevent the windshield from fogging up, but otherwise, it’s a pretty good trick.

Photo Credit: kalevkevad via Flickr.

July 10, 2009

We Love Hot Cars; We Need a New Hotness

Category: Companies,Energy Independence,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:23 am

Today’s Times reports that the new Camaro from GM is selling well. The base V-6 model gets a mediocre 22 MPG. A quote from the article sums it up for me, discussing

… Scott Wilbur, a 40-year-old elementary school principal who bought a silver V-8 Camaro in June.

Mr. Wilbur had not purchased a G.M. vehicle in a decade, and traded in his Honda Civic hybrid to buy the Camaro.

He even gave up his California-issued sticker to drive in hybrid-only carpool lanes to get behind the wheel of his new muscle car.

“I might not be as environmentally friendly, but at this point I don’t mind waiting in traffic to drive this,” he said.

To be fair, he says might buy a Volt next year (by the way, how does an elementary school Principal afford two new cars, one very expensive, in two years?).

But c’mon, folks — this is not what we need. We love our hot cars, and have for years. Do we need to define a new “hot”? In the 1980’s women with big hair were “hot” (for that matter, in the 1680s, women with big thighs were “hot”). Tail-fins were in then out. Pocket-rockets were in. Why can’t we figure out how to make a car that people love that they don’t love because of the roar of its internal combustion engine soaking up gasoline?

I see why GM needed to get bailed out, and I see GM changing their views on the way things are. I don’t see the American populace picking up the cues.

I am writing now from Europe. There are a lot of nice cars here, but very, very few are large. Perhaps that’s because gas costs 1.32 per liter, or $6.95/gallon. So people have made some very hot (or cool, or funky, or interesting) cars that also happen to be far smaller.

But perhaps more important, people have created better ways of travel that work (and are not cars).

March 8, 2009

Road Use Fee — A Bad Alternative to Gas Taxes

Category: Climate Change,Economics,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:15 pm

Funding for Federal and State highway maintenance mostly comes from gas taxes today. But this started posing a problem last summer when gas prices were high and fewer people were driving, and continues now when fewer people are driving because of other economic reasons. And the average fuel efficiency of vehicles used has improved.

The problem is that less gas purchased means less revenues to maintain roads.

So both states and federal agencies are considering a new way of raising revenues, based on miles driven. Some are even adding factors like the weight of the vehicle and where the vehicle is driven to the formula. (more…)

November 21, 2008

Got AAA for your Car? Here’s a Better (World) Option

Category: Companies,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 2:47 pm

AAA with a Conscience

AAA with a Conscience

I have had a Automobile Association of America (AAA) membership since I had a car, but I just switched to BetterWorld Club — same service and price but better environmental objectives.

Have you ever read the magazine that AAA sends every month? Yeah, most of it is promoting their services, vehicle safety, insurance and all, but they also report on their legislative lobbying agenda. As far as I can see they are on the wrong side of a lot of discussions.

I am sure they are nice folks, and mean well and all, but they have a mission to advance the use of cars. Here’s a quote from a Sierra Club report:

…the organization is now a major force in pushing for more highway spending, fewer pollution controls and less money for mass transit. As investigative journalist Michael Rivlin has written, the 43-million-member-strong organization “is on the record against virtually every proposal for cutting automobile pollution.”

While that was from several years back, it’s clearly true that AAA’s direction and mine have diverged.

BetterWorld Club provides pretty much the same services, discounts, at the same cost as AAA. They offer a Hybrid discount, and they even offer roadside bicycle assistance. But instead of lobbying for automotive agendas, BetterWorld advocates for an environmental agenda. What’s not to like?

October 3, 2008

Start a Walking School Bus

Category: Fun,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:49 pm

A walking school bus is a simple idea. One or two parents sign up to be drivers, routes and times are set, and every day, our kids walk along to school.

An industrious parent in my daughter’s elementary school organized ours. She found leaders and started four routes last week; I have been “driving” one. We have about 10 kids in our route, and I think the others do as well.

Of course all I care about is that it’s “green” :-) But there’s so much more.

It’s convenient for parents — they just drop their child at a stop at the appointed time and say goodbye.

It’s fun for the kids. Friends who didn’t know they lived close to each other have met. Several kids who were a little uncertain at first are having a blast.

It’s painless for the driver. (more…)

June 22, 2008

Not All Hybrid Cars are Created Equal

Category: Save Fuel,Technology – Tom Harrison – 12:27 pm

It is a wonderful thing that car manufacturers are moving to hybrid versions of their vehicles.

Like many of the incremental features introduced in cars over the years, the good ones catch on. Shoulder belts, air bags, anti-lock braking, and many others have made cars safer.

And now, many cars are available with hybrid engines. This adds to the price of the car a little (or sometimes, it seems, a lot). And a hybrid system makes the car greener, right?

Why, the Chevy Tahoe is the green car of the year if you can believe that. (It costs $11,000 more to get the “green” hybrid version, so the car can get a paltry 22 miles per gallon).

A hybrid system does not make a car “green”, it just makes a car a little less of a bad thing. (more…)

May 21, 2008

Low Hanging Fruit: Solar Panel Parking Lot Canopies

Light pollution Open parking lots are a blight on the landscape. They create “heat islands”, are poor at dealing with rain and snow runoff, have lights that generate light pollution and look ugly, and are unpleasant places to be in.

One technology solution promises to change this, the Envision Solar Grove. (more…)

April 15, 2008

Congestion Pricing: Simplicity is the Key

Category: Economics,Policy,Save Fuel,Technology,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 9:22 pm

New York City recently failed to pass a law that would change the price of tolls based on the time of day—higher prices during busy times and lower prices off-peak.

It’s not hard to see why this well-intentioned law didn’t pass. Take a look at this article (actually a “Freakonomics” Blog Post) in the New York Times. Are your eyes glazing over? Mine were.

The thing is, this is not only something near and dear to my environmental leanings, it is the main topic that I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on in college: change the price of something based on predictable patterns of use. So it’s possible that I am slightly more willing to understand this stuff than most people.

But my eyes glazed over anyway. (more…)

November 25, 2007

Save Gasoline with E-Z Pass Electronic Toll Collection

The E-Z Pass electronic toll collection tag saved gasoline on our trip home this Thanksgiving. That’s my claim, and I’m sticking to it. The first way E-Z Pass saves gas is that you don’t have to bring your car to a complete stop and then accelerate back to highway speed. But based on my prior Thanksgiving driving trips I think there is a potentially much larger savings. (more…)

November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Driving Report: Tips for Saving Gas

Category: Little Things,Take Actions,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 10:18 pm

If you are on the road this Thanksgiving, consider this fact from the US Department of Energy: “Idling gets you 0 miles per gallon”. In fact, idling for more than 10 seconds uses more gas than turning the car off then on as needed. So if you are waiting in long lines of traffic approaching tolls, or waiting in line for fast-food, consider turning off the engine. Be safe, and don’t gun the engine (more…)