No Gas at the Pumps … No Power in the Grid

Reader Contribution by Staff
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No Driving … No Generators … No Toast

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Do I think it is going to happen? Probably not. I certainly hope not. But it is possible and if you are reading this, it has crossed your mind too. (At another time, we can discuss how it might happen.)

In the meantime, “No gas at the pump … no power in the grid” is an important scenario for us to consider. After all, Western civilization – that is “us” – is based upon cheap and available energy. What are we willing to do for that energy? Will we go to war for it? Will we give up our standard of living? Do we want to figure out how to live better on less energy? I choose the latter. Two questions, then: How much energy do we really need?

And: Is it possible to harvest that power from our own land?

This, then, is the subject of this blog. 

We will begin with transportation, which is my area of experience. Since 3 out of 4 gallons of fuel we use for transportation is imported, we are not living within our budget of energy. Spending money for fuel is making us poor and others rich. Some of these people want to kill us. Therefore, it is in our best interest to live better on less fuel.

A Whole Generation Rode With Me

I began designing for motorcycles in the 1960s – a period when cars got 12 mpg and motorcycles got 40 mpg. I was proud that my streamlined fairings helped motorcycles be better transportation because every gallon of gas we burned went 3 times as far as a gallon in a car. However, by the late 1970s, some cars, like the Honda CRX, got 40 mpg while the motorcycles people wanted were getting less than 40 mpg. Disappointed in the direction of things, I sold my business.

How would I help motorcycles lead the way again in fuel efficiency? What would we have to do to get three times the mileage, like cars were getting? Was 120 mpg even possible? Nobody could tell me.

The answer came when I had the occasion to interview Jerry Branch of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Jerry is famous for making Harley-Davidson racers go fast. I asked Jerry:

“What do you do?”

“I make engines have more horsepower,” he said

“How do you do that?” I asked

“By burning more gas and air”, he replied.

Burn more gas and air!

Today we want to burn less gas and air. This means we need to learn how to live on less horsepower.

 Here was the key to living better on less energy!

How much horsepower did it really take to propel a person down the road in real conditions? Jerry did not know. Nobody seemed to know. To find out, I hosted the Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Contests of 1980-85.

After six years of competition, the resulting machines were very tiny (just big enough for a person to fit into) and streamlined (round at the front, pointed at the rear. It turned out that streamlining was the key to going through the air with less horsepower. Streamlining is only one shape: round at the front and pointed at the tail. With streamlining, we discovered that it was possible to go 55 mph on 3½ horsepower. 3½ horsepower! Why, most lawn mowers have more power than that! Didn’t Jerry tell us that it was horsepower that burned fuel? With streamlining and 3½ horsepower, we could go over 450 miles on a gallon of gas – at 55 miles per hour!

In an address to the designers of the world at World Conference of ASID / IDSA San Francisco, I explained what we had learned:

A DVD of that event, “How they got 470 mpg in the Vetter Fuel Economy Contests,” is now available. You won’t learn this in schools.

In the next blog: How much power does it take today when the speed limit is 70 mph? Will we be able to harvest that power at home?

If these kinds of gains are possible in transportation, might the same gains be possible in powering our homes? Pumping our water? Growing our food??

Are you beginning to see the possibilities?

Go to my web page and see what has been done. Come back and talk.