Monday, October 27, 2008

Openness is Environmental; who’d a thunk it?

So here is the gist of the argument:

Open architecture, open standards, open protocols, and open networks enable the multi-purposing of devices, and encourage and facilitate organic improvement in device and application functionality requires. E-waste is reduced when devices serve multiple purposes, and when useful life can be extended through on-going adaptation and upgrades with software or addition of hardware components.

Closed proprietary systems, on the other hand, do the exact opposite. They are made for discrete purposes, with planned obsolescence, and innovation is limited to insider willingness and insider imagination.

To see some exquisite artistic renderings of consumption, including electronic consumption, check out Chris Jordan's work, from which the photo above is an unworthy clip. There is an important tool -- an Executive Order -- the US government can use, that would have an enormous impact on reducing electronic waste.

According to an EPA study of solid waste: "The production of electric and electronic devices is a very resource-intensive activity. The environmental burden due to the production of electrical and electronic products ("ecological baggage") exceeds by far the one due to the production of other household materials. When these devices become obsolete and are discarded without recycling they leave behind lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous wastes.

In USA In 2005, we generated 2.6 million tons of e-waste in the US, or 1.4% of total discards. Of this amount, only 12.5% of the consumer electronic products in the municipal waste stream were "recovered," This compares to the overall recovery rate of all categories of municipal waste was 32.1% in 2005.” (1)

Even while "68 percent of consumers stockpile used or unwanted computer equipment in their homes." E-waste shows a higher growth rate than any other category of municipal waste in the EPA's report.

Of course, I have to tie this in to my favorite subject: transportation! Long-term policy goals for the US department of transportation include IT for safety, mobility, and convenience applications. These applications will rely on electronic hardware for wireless communications connecting the 240 million vehicles on the road today with network access points across America.

Given the scale and scope of the US transportation system, pervasive throughout America, touching every American family, electronic devices that leverage open architectures, open standards, open protocols, and open networks -- enabling the multipurposing of electronic and wireless investments – can dramatically reduce the amount of e-waste and would be the environmentally preferred solution for safety, mobility, and convenience applications that are intended for large fleets (over five thousand units).

The Presidential Executive Order -- “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” signed by President Bush on January 24, 2007, instructs Federal agencies to “conduct their environmental, transportation, and energy-related activities under the law in support of their respective missions in an environmentally, economically and fiscally sound, integrated, continuously improving, efficient, and sustainable manner.”

Encouraging open architecture, open standards, open protocols, and open networks is important for this country’s future, one that includes limited resources – elemental as well as monetary ones. We need to get the most out of every device, every investment, and every dollar. Openness helps us accomplish that.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All-you-can-eat vs pay-as-you-consume

Sounds like some frightening cannibal menu, but I’m really talking about pricing models. The wrong plan can have enormous unintended consequences. Take restaurants, for example. Given America’s rising obesity epidemic, all-you-can-eat buffets encourage us to over consume – an undesirable urge. So what does this have to do with cars you ask?

Economists will say that all-you-can-eat is the right way to price when you have lots of excess capacity and the cost to provide that extra unit of consumption very low. This is why cellphone providers offer monthly bundles of minutes. They know that people prefer having a stable monthly bill they can predict. They also know that people typically choose a higher rate plan than suffer the occasional penalty of going over. And then, people use their minutes right up to cut-off point.

The bottom line is that all-you-can-eat encourages more consumption than pay-as-you-go. Depending on the network I’m talking about, I have different opinions, which could make me sound like a hypocrite. When I’m talking about the internet, which I think everyone should have access to and use as much as they like, I usually favor all-you-can-eat pricing: please, consume as much information as you can! Produce as much content as you are inspired to produce! All for one monthly price!

But then, when I talk about cars, I say the exact opposite. We should pay-as-we-consume. We want people to know and experience the real cost of driving for every mile (and place) that they drive, so that they can make rational decisions about whether they should walk, bike, take transit, drive now, or bundle the errand with another trip. There is a reason for my flip flop (I’m in a political state-of-mind these days). There are enormous externalities associated with driving, that because they are don’t have a cost associated with them, make driving that extra mile appear free when it really isn’t. Take congested roads for an example, the cost of adding each additional vehicle is very high to every other person out there on the road. But there is a whole list of other underfunded costs as well: parking supply and demand, highway maintenance, traffic accidents (death and injury), the effects of car-dedicated pavement on land use, water quality, and the ability of other modes and people to share that same space. Can you believe I didn’t even say the CO word? I’m trying to make the point that even if no carbon dioxide were emitted from the engine, driving that extra mile has lots of other serious costs associated with it.

Over the last thirty years, the transportation profession has learned that if you build it, they will come – meaning you can never build your way out of congestion, because the more free roads and parking you offer, the more miles people drive and the more places they drive to instead of taking an alternative mode. In the last four years, the US government has been encouraging states to start making drivers more aware of the actual and marginal costs. In San Francisco, they have just launched an experiment with dynamic parking rates in a large area of the city. The tighter the on-street parking supply gets, the more it costs to park. [Conversely, you are always guaranteed to find a parking space in that section of town, you’ll just pay a lot for it at peak times.] Progressive insurance has just started offering pay-by-the-mile insurance: the more you drive the more you pay; the less you drive the less you pay. It makes sense.

I was reading about a keynote address Shai Agassi gave at a conference put on by Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center for Regional Development. Shai has a compelling story to tell about how he is going to supply electric cars and refueling centers to entire countries (Israel and Denmark have signed up) to reduce CO2 emissions. Electric cars have an important role to play in reducing the 18% of the world’s emissions that come from our cars. Shai is doing some admirable work raising capital, building a business model, engaging partners, and accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. People everywhere, who have been fretting about how to reconcile our car dependence and energy and environmental needs are loving Shai’s story. This from an article that covered the September 5 conference:

‘But what roused the audience to a level of enthusiasm comparable to the political conventions was the keynote address of Shai Agassi.

But Shai’s program has one element I’d like to see changed. His current plan is to offer drivers a cellphone-like plan. You get the car and x miles per month for a one fixed monthly price. And here is where I’d like governments and transportation planner and business people to take note: This pricing model for the electric cars runs counter to all the other steps transportation planners and city governments are taking. It undermines efforts underway to turn the fixed costs of car ownership into variable ones.

Cars aren’t bad, and electric cars are much better. But, all-you-can-eat buffets shouldn’t be on the menu.

Read more!

Friday, October 3, 2008

“If you are pro electric vehicles, you are pro nuclear power”

This was the case built by BP Chief Scientist, Steve Koonin, at Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week (webcast available here). His case went like this:

• If every vehicle in America were electric-powered, and we achieved three times the energy efficiencies in those vehicles than we get today,

• It would require 50% more electric power capacity than we are currently producing.

• There is no way to meet this demand other than through significant nuclear power supply.

• Therefore, if you are pro electric cars, you are pro nuclear power.

This curious logic was followed by a confession of his later in the panel discussion:

Koonin noted that he had two houses: one in London, and one in California. When he was in London, he didn’t own or need a car. But he had three cars at his California house.

So I present another logic:
• If most people lived in dense mixed use communities that are well supported by a wide variety of transportation options that allow individuals (like London)

• It would require dramatically less energy – regardless of the source – to live happy and productive lives

• We likely able to meet this demand with alternative energy sources over the next 50 years in the time it will take to replace our fleets and refresh our infrastructure if we accurately incentivize individuals, developers, and cities to choose fuel-efficient and low-CO2 options (unlike the energy costs that built the California that Koonin lives in today).

• So if you are pro addressing climate change then you are a price on carbon emissions.

Read more!