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Weekly NewsPool: Local energy, the London Underground, and the end of Heritage Week!

In planning news and in the blogosphere, this week brought two great stories from Boston, including a glimpse at the future of open transit data. Other stories address the challenging imperative of energy security, and mark without mourning the end of the public-private partnership that, until recently, operated London’s Underground.

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Reducing barriers to renewable energy

Solar panel

Solar Panel by Flickr user futureatlas.com

There are lots of reasons why we don’t use more renewable energy, like solar or wind power. A huge reason is cost – often a system can take 10 to 15 years to payback from energy savings. Another factor is regulatory. Sometimes, zoning laws don’t allow solar power or adding photovoltaic panels may require a construction permit.

Portland is trying to make it easier for homeowners to add solar panels to their houses. While Portland may not be solar power mecca, the city boasts a number of renewable energy firms and has a strong commitment to sustainability, hoping to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent before 2030 and 80 percent reduction by 2050 (see Portland’s Climate Action Plan). So, the … Continue Reading

Smart Grids and Solar Energy

Losing Power by jeepskate (flickr)

Losing Power by jeepskate (flickr)

A few days ago, Discovery.com Tech released an interesting video about “smart grids.” Smart grids are electricity networks that can better match electrical demand with electricity supply.

The price of electricity changes in each hour, day, month, and year, because there may be a shortage of electricity supplied (high price) or not enough demand for electricity (low price). For example, electricity is usually expensive in the evening when people are cooking, doing laundry, watching TV, and turning lights on. Electricity is also expensive during work hours, as offices and manufacturing facilities require energy. Electricity can be expensive in the summer, because people turn on air conditioning. The same is true for heating in the winter. As you can … Continue Reading

Mobility on Demand: Winner of the The Buckminster Fuller Challenge


Mobility Network from winning team

Mobility Network from winning team

A team from MIT just won the 2009 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, a competition that awards a $100,000 prize to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.

The team devised a Mobility-on-demand system that works a lot like bike sharing programs that we have covered extensively, but has a greater variety of vehicles. The system has racks of super lightweight and compact electric bikes, scooters, and cars at closely spaced, convenient locations around an urban service area. The vehicles automatically recharge while they are in these racks.

To use, people walk to the nearest rack, swipe a credit card, pick up a vehicle, drive it to a … Continue Reading

Ought Nine for Oh-Nine: No. 3 – Hindenburg Redux (you know, minus the whole disaster part)

So, it turns out that hydrogen is a great idea for some things, but not for others.  In fact, knee-jerk hydrogen car skeptics worry that fuel-cell vehicles might be like bombs on wheels (a concern having no scientific basis).  Good to know that New Jersey’s Hindenburg disaster of some 82 years ago still reverberates through public consciousness.  Though hydrogen won’t lead to the unwarranted automotive explosions of so many 80’s action films, it is a legitimately bad way to float zeppelins.  Unfortunately, after the Hindenburg, the baby got tossed with the bathwater (save for the Goodyear Blimp).

Now anyone who’s bought a plane ticket in the past 20 years knows the increasingly prohibitive cost of flying.  For those of us with an eye toward the polar icecaps, there is also increasing awareness of the detriment that jets are to … Continue Reading

Planning Porn and the Ought Nine for Oh-Nine

I’m addicted to planning porn.

If you’re still reading, allow me to elaborate…

One of the most accessible, exciting and sometimes frightening elements of planning is the effort to imagine future incarnations of society through the lens of new-fangled, far-reaching technologies.  Of these, there is no shortage.  Imagine flying cars, living buildings and cities built on pontoons.  Such ideas artfully stretch the bounds of our imaginations, but most of us have no expectation that any of it will ever come to fruition.  Nothing is new about planning porn.

Take, for example, my parents’ generation, the Baby-Boomers.  On one hand, their most outlandish expectations for the far-off future were probably a blend of George Jetson and Mr. Spock.  On the other, few foresaw the rapid rise of personal computing and widespread mobile communications, despite … Continue Reading