Posted by: energyblogwalter | August 19, 2009

Metrolinx Request For Comments: Electrification

This post follows the idea that to ask me a question about ideas for energy systems in Ontario is to get an answer from the viewpoint of Peak Oil.  So when Metrolinx emailed me for comments regarding issues comparing electrification versus diesel in trains and transportation, I of course was happy to oblige.  Metrolinx is the Ontario government agency responsible for developing a plan to improve the transportation systems of Ontario.

Suffice it to say that I believe if we focus on reducing our energy waste to being with, this provides the necessary available energy left over to electrify the transportation industry for fun and profit.    Here’s the form online:

My comments to their questions follow:

• How does the future of diesel technology compare to electric technology?
• What emerging technologies provide viable alternatives to either electric or diesel power?
• What are the trade-offs of more frequent service, or shorter/faster trains?

Q–How does the future of diesel technology compare to electric technology?

**Diesel Fuel**;

–low efficiency < 45% in transportation to move at a loss thus higher cost,
–requires much fuel station and refilling infrastructure,
–subject to geopolitics or change by someone else’s laws in another region,
–available now as currently used, however is in decline and has no long term future, (
–single source point of generation,
–while in use diesel is polluting and non-renewable,
–increasing cost,
–not made locally, not made in Canada but imported for refinement,
–thus no local ownership by people,

**Electricity as Fuel**;

–highest efficiency > 90% in transportation to move not at a loss thus lower cost,
–thus less energy needed and lower overall infrastructure,
–made locally, we have a lot of land to create it,
–variety of sources means that you do not need to identify the source, but only the amount required,
–thus providing the greatest flexibility with multi-point sources of generation and not a single fail-point,
–reducing cost as more capacity comes online over a broader area,
–can even be made by houses,
–people can make it directly and are themselves end users,
–net-metering etc means direct ownership by people,
–sources can be both non-renewable but also including renewable
–while in use is non-polluting,
–if locally made then locally based prices, inflation , or economic conditions,
–overall cheaper for any municipality or province when all inputs are included,
–possible within the year,
–will be the definition of comparison with other advanced nations,
–will cut carbon dioxide emissions by the megatonne

Q–What emerging technologies provide viable alternatives to either electric or diesel power?

Geothermal and all thermal based energy systems as the new base-load replacement.  We have land we have water and sun with disproportionate reduced population and thus can have a base load throughout the province in addition to any renewable system.


—walkable cities,
—elimination on the need to travel to begin with, ie: urban farming,

Q–What are the trade-offs of more frequent service, or shorter/faster trains?

Only weak service modes prevents increased adoption.  If you’re not serious you will not get a serious result.  If you are not seeing trains as number one, or the design does not show trains as number one then forever will they be in the back seat.  If the car is the winner in planning decisions and transport infrastructure then train adoption can never increase due to bias and favouritism.  Bias and favour trains or cars.  Not both.  Car infrastructure is 100x more costly than train infrastructure.  Waterloo Chamber of Commerce study showing that restarting train service costs only $9 million dollars while making a limited new highway cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Therefore transportation planning that avoids trains as more cost effective is akin to a raving nutter.

Look elsewhere.  In Japan there are 6 types of overland train service (not including Shinkasen or subways).  Their trains are called : Local, Semi-express, Express, Limited express, Rapid express, and Limited rapid express!  Coming back to Toronto was a big let down.

Note that while focusing on the multi-mode trains as the only viable and cost effective method does not disallow cars and trucks, however it focuses modal use and our tax dollars to the multi-modal trains that a local train alone can obviously never accomplish.  Instead a maximun overall benefit to the most number of people is achieved.  (This obvious thing to people in Japan and Europe would take a miracle to be accepted here).  Given the social context problems, go big or go home.  Go to Japan, take the train.  Understand through experience.

“Transport Revolutions : How to move freight without oil” (2007);


The need to electrify transportation will be met by a decline in oil resources due to Peak Oil regardless of the time frame for that change.  5-10 years maximum delay.  We are lucky that this recession has delayed us a few more years to make a useful plan.  With a diminished diesel fuel capacity inevitable anyway, it will be necessary to electrify as much as possible which can be achieved locally.  Diesel is not local and is a limiting factor in the security of our food, goods and people as fuel prices waver upwards.

Electricity can be made locally and is not subject to international geopolitical issues of sources of diesel.  Due to our rather contrived pipeline system in Canada, we do not have the pipeline capacity for East/West or West/East transport of fuels.  Thus because of this design, Canadians import their oil from the Middle East because it’s cheaper to do so, while selling tarsands to the US.  Thus diesel fuels are a limiting factor to Canada and are based on continual international goodwill.

Instead, if we use our electrical excess for transportation as a replacement for transportation fuels such as diesel use, we cut down our need to buy fuels from overseas which saves various governments a lot of revenue in various forms to apply elsewhere.  Replacement improves our transportation security, food security, population security.  Quantifying the security of mobility of food people and goods cannot be done with diesel without international costs and systems outside of Canadian control, laws, accountability or planning.  Even if Electrification at the local level is more expensive than diesel usage, due to the amount of savings gained by standard local pricing due to local generation, Electrification wins over a regional system in both the short and long term.

Considering transportation represent more than 80% of all oil usage, this would solve any prospect of an international crisis on any reduced or speculative oil production.  (ie: 2007 $147 per barrel might return, might not, why guess?  Why not plan for never?  Why suffer needlessly?)

Electrification alleviates international pressure into a local market, thus stabilizing prices and planning.

Community and health impacts
• What are the local and regional impacts with respect to emissions, noise, and quality of life?

People will die less often.  Respiratory illnesses will go down from photochemical smog and NOx values and the key ingredients to create the pollution are no longer present for the chemistry to occur.

More eyes on the street, a term from Jane Jacobs, referring on why some streets are safer than others.  Not so dense a place to live that you hide away from everyone, but not so separate as well that you don’t know anybody.  Another happy medium for greater safety in a mixed marketplace 1-5 story world (ie: Paris-esque and Bloor-Danforth renovation)

• Is there enough electricity supply to support system-wide electrification?
• What will the electric grid look like over time?

Q–Is there enough electricity supply to support system-wide electrification?

Yes.  According the nobel physicist US Energy Secretary Chu, homes can cheaply paint their rooftops white, thus saving 20% per year of their energy needs.  Homes with reduced energy needs would thus have available excess energy from the system put towards electrification.  This can be done in 1-2 years under a mandate to all Ontario housing and business rooftops to be white to support regional transit and reduced taxes.  If we can replace incandescent lightbulbs for such a minimal effect, why not replace black rooftops with white for a more obvious one?  Like the CFC bulb, it would make magnitudes of difference in energy demands.

Also note that Ontario has had a drop in electrical demand since 2006 due to a crash of the energy in the manufacturing sector thus already providing cushion.

No new nuclear, no solar panels.  The above is doable right now.  Sad isn’t it?

Q–What will the electric grid look like over time

Multi modal as much as trains.  Beyond just painting a roof white, a home with solar or designed to be 125% or greater energy positive like a region in Freiburg Germany, connected to centralized power to offset the to and fro of supply.  This would be supply organized at the local level by people for their direct economic benefit and interaction.

No point it giving nuclear $40 billion when we can supply our own electrical needs along with transportation supply for less than $1 billion a year, with a majority of that money going to painting a roof (then later renovation) of people’s homes.  By reinvesting in people we connect people to ownership of the resources.

With people now in energy partnership of resources, banks will offer an energy mortgage for net metering of the cost of the home.  Thus creating banking security of the monetary supply and not only being a government run program.  To be successful the banks must be involved.  If they see the monetary security as this example implies, then energy improvements and investments can happen more fluidity.

Land use planning
• How will different energy supply options impact land use development?

The Geography of Nowhere (my ongoing blog)

I’ve thought a lot about this and have a solution and a vision which I hope to implement as a future engineer in my new career post-IT phase.

At some point there will be recognition of the fact that too few people occupying a space is too costly but also the same for too much density.  When cheap abundant energy is gone due to Peak Oil etc, we will be forced to use proven mathematics and environmental science that shows us that any given plot of land has access to sunlight and geothermal or other thermal properties.  These land lot properties will define the upper bounds of available energy of the land.  Divided by energy per person will determine the number of people on the lot.

Density makes cost cheap, but energy poor since any available energy is divided by too many people.  Thus urban farming marketplace Paris-style living with 3-5 story maximum height buildings will be the norm, and the most effective middle ground in energy efficiency for those people.  These people will not need 100% of their energy imported from outside their residences.  Excess goes to the grid, where they are paid thanks to net-metering.  The net-metering rate currently at 500mW may then be be tweaked higher as needed by transportation.  Investment will go to building buildings of the appropriate lot size at the right medium density as determined by mathematics not architecture or location or cashola.  These medium neighbourhoods will be the energy producers.

At some point as well, development of the land is then fully occupied.  This then creates a limit of zero.  Should an area be filled with enough producers and users up to its mathematical limit imposed by the energy-per-lot, then that area is considered full, and can no longer accept any new development.  Development would then have physical and mathematical constraints, and would no longer be trumped by the OMB.  Since people in houses and mixed density would be mostly producers anyway, there is no incentive to lose energy, and therefore money, with more density.  Thus investment goes towards non-full areas until done, leaving medium density energy sustainable living.  High moves to a low.

Condos require 100% energy inputs as do most apartment buildings and businesses.  Unable (or unwilling ie: condo fee agreements do not go down if you generate your own power) to generate their own power they will be the consumers of power.  They will pay the 1-5 story building dwellers for their exported energy, as well as be dependent on Ontario energy services.

Land use changes to remove suburban, condos, cars, and driving as non-investments will occur based on energy and liveable marketplaces that produce energy

System costs, funding, financing and delivery
• What are the capital costs for converting the current diesel GO network to electric?
• What are the differences in operating costs between energy supply options?

Again Chu noted a 20% energy savings on a painted white roof.

So then, paint the roof white on every house in Ontario.  Mandatory White Roof Law.  $1 Billion or less.  No new solar, or nuclear is required at this point.  Can be done today. That’s it.  Let’s do the least we can do first.

From Transport Revolutions: Moving freight without oil (2007), I vaguely remember a statistic that it would cost only 11% of the renewable energy wealth of the USA to electrify all of its transportation system to replace oil based transport.  It could be higher it could be lower.

Doesn’t matter.  With a 20% reduction in energy needs in the home and that excess going towards transport electrification instead, it is clearly viable in only the time it takes to paint all the rooftops white, all without requiring not a single new technology.

Obviously it can’t be 100%, some anthropogenic delays, some homes 15%, others 30% etc, but overall it’s that simple.

Ridership and usage of transit
• How will electrification impact service?
• Will electrification increase ridership?
• Will electrification increase reliability?

Increased service will result due to new serious focus on trains.  With less pollution generated and more available trains for almost twice the available energy of diesel, must increase ridership.  This will not be linear though and be related only to the convenience of the services in an area. (ie: 6 train types in Japan again)

With fewer moving parts with electrification this will result in increased reliability and reduced expense to municipalities for repair and servicing.  Reliability in Canada also means dealing with winter.  With direct electrification we avoid the issues of loss due to battery depletion known to occur in -20C weather.



  1. Whoops.. the line “Yes. According the nobel physicist US Energy Secretary Chu, homes can cheaply paint their rooftops white, thus saving 20% of their immediate energy needs right now. ”

    Typo missed adding “per year”. Obviously the energy savings are made over time and are not instantaneous! So I’ll update this online version.

  2. It’s a no brainer, railway electrification is proven technology. For that matter Toronto is light years a head of other cities of Canada in that they didn’t totally trash their streetcar system.

  3. well, they did totally trash their trolley system. I grew up taking the Avenue Rd. bus and it was a trolley. It was active until the late 90’s. Worked fine.

    What’s worse though is that they took down all the guide wires and they took down all the posts. Infrastructure we’ll need again

  4. The TTC’s trolley buses were trashed, that was a mistake. Edmonton recently did that too.

  5. rats, sorry to hear that.

    Have they taken down the poles and wires too? If I have been of mind at the time, I would have marked on a map where they were placed before they’re gone

  6. havent visited the place for a long time. is the trolley gone?

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