Gasoline – let’s save 15 Billion Gal/Yr

I write my politicians annually with a “mission” for them to execute in Congress. One mission objective I harp on is improving energy independence. The facts are astounding. I like this US Government website:

DOE – Quick Oil

Petroleum provides about 37% of the US energy supply, and 71% of petroleum production is devoted to fueling transportation. But, to put this statistic truly in perspective, the US consumes 390 million gallons of gasoline every day (a 2008 statistic). WOW!

We drink oil non-stop…  What if…

I like to “What If…” with clients – it often leads to interesting brainstorming and opportunities previously unconsidered. So, what if a car never had to stop at red lights? How much gasoline would that save us a year in the US?

Off the cuff accounting (I hate unsubstantiated facts) suggest that between 3% and 10% of gasoline is wasted by the start-stop of city driving. That amounts to 4.27 billion gallons of gasoline per year wasted in the USA – at red lights assuming the 3% waste rate. Gasoline waste approached 15 billion gallons annually in the USA at the 10% rate, and I believe this is more realistic.

What if you could know if the upcoming stoplight would be red or green when you reached the intersection? You could adjust your speed to coincide with an upcoming green stoplight. Would drivers with this information form “packets” of cars instead of clusters of cars that randomly expand to a homogeneous distribution as cars currently behave today?

This is not a new concept – in Europe, the Intelligent Car initiative (see this link) has lots of “smart car” ideas… One includes the announcement of upcoming stop light status with a cue to the driver to either accelerate or ease off the gas…

Intelligent Car Initiative

I don’t think that intelligent cars are the answer – I am more inclined to think that the secret to success lies in “intelligent roadways”. While many couple these two ideas, the reality is that the Intelligent Car Initiative relies upon all cars to participate for the collective benefit – the vast majority of cars would have to be intelligent for effective “packetizing” of cars, and it may take a decade or longer to turn over the inventory of cars on the road so that a critical number are intelligent. On the other hand, an intelligent roadway and a signaling system to inform the driver potentially works for every car without any requirement placed on the car (just on the car’s driver).

So, what if… What if there were “intermediate stop light signals” – if you passed one of these devices and the indicator was green, you would know that you would have a green light at the next intersection if you continued to proceed at the speed limit. With several of these indicators in view down the road, you would know whether to speed up (you passed a red light, but the ones in front of it are all green) up or slow down (you passed a red light, and the ones in front of it are also red). This solution is technologically very simple – good for anywhere in the world. All you need is a delay function, some power and wiring and a few light housings.

Sometime, simpler is better. You don’t need to make the car smart to make the driver smart… And save 15 billion gallons of gasoline a year.


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