That leaves us with electricity. Electric power is the future for transportation, for three main reasons:
1. Electricity can be generated from any renewable or nonrenewable source. It is not bound to fossil fuels.
2. It can be generated almost anywhere. The shorter the distance between the point of energy generation and the point of use, the more efficient and robust your infrastructure is.
3. It can be emissions-free. If we could massively exploit the world's geo-thermal potential, for example, we could be running a good deal of our infrastructure on it, without contributing to global warming or otherwise contaminating the environment.
Short of everyone taking up the energy lifestyle of the Amish, electricity must be the energy of the future. This is particularly true 80 to 100 years from now, when there will be very little production of today's most dominant fuels. So an immediate transition strategy is paramount, as our century-old transportation infrastructure cannot be transformed overnight.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can serve as a transitional technology to the all-electric cars of the future, by supplanting some of their liquid fuel needs with grid electricity. Even better, electric trains offer a huge opportunity to offset an enormous portion of our fuel demand.
Engineer Alan Drake, who has done extensive research on the potential of rail, and electrified rail in particular, believes that it can significantly reduce our consumption of diesel fuel. He claims that two million barrels a day of diesel fuel (about 10% of our total oil usage) could be supplanted using just 1.4 percent of U.S. electrical production, and that switching half of our current truck freight to electric rail could save 6.3 percent of U.S. oil consumption.30 With modern hybrid locomotives, Drake calculates that the savings realized by switching freight loads from diesel- powered trucks to modern electric rail is 20 to 1.
In all, Drake believes that with a supportive public policy, a crash urban rail building program could save 9 percent of our current transportation fuel consumption by 2020, with a corresponding 15 percent reduction in private auto travel—the same level of offsets that the entire petroleum and biofuels industries are now struggling to achieve.
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