Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day – Reducing your dependence on fossil fuels

It’s a good bet all high on the hog readers agree that our conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels needs to drastically decrease if we are going to stop the effects of global warming and end our dependence on oil imports. Hopefully the widespread effects of global warming will spur political action to fund the infrastructure which allows for abundant public transportation and renewable energy. While progress is being made, we cannot count on this happening on a wide scale anytime soon, though it is certainly a hotter topic than ever before. Therefore, as individuals we must find ways to consume less fossil fuel.

Last December I started tracking where my household’s money went. I found that we spent an average of $650 a month at gas stations, and that was well before gas hit $4 per gallon! Since this summer, I have been able to reduce the amount we spend at gas stations to $250. Here are things we tried in an attempt to reduce our fossil fuel consumption:

• Carpooling- Unfortunately there is no way to take public transport given my 100 mile round trip commute and my late working hours. Luckily Brian and I work fairly close together, and by a bit of compromising on our schedules we are able to carpool most days. This saves about $300 per month.

• Greasing- Brian converted his truck to run on waste vegetable oil. The conversion cost about $1800, but with diesel so expensive the return of investment was theoretically fairly quick. Unfortunately, Brian always has some reason why his set up isn’t working and he is a slacker about making the rounds to restaurants and asking for grease. It also doesn’t help that we are near Valley Proteins who usually gets the good grease first to make biodiesel. So far our benefit from this conversion is far far in the red, plus Brian wants to sell his truck and buy a fancier one. Søren, on the other had seems to get decent benefit from his grease car. Collecting and processing grease is so laborious though so it is only worth pursuing if you enjoy it as a hobby, because if you paid yourself your normal wage for the cost to get and clean a gallon of grease it would exceed the price of a gallon of gas by far, me thinks.

• Wind and solar power- we have both of these on our farm but haven’t put them to practical use yet. The solar is so my donkey can read books in his barn at night and our area is highly rated for wind power but Brian hasn’t built the tower for his turbines yet. The cost of hooking these to the grid is prohibitive so they may have to charge batteries or directly feed to some appliance.

• Hypermiling- This is a way to get more fuel efficiency from your car. My top ten tips on how to hypermile are ranked in order on their convenience to actually apply to your daily driving. I went from getting 28 to up to 41.5mpg in my VW Golf through strict adherence to the principles below:

1. Ensure your tires are inflated to the max PSI on the tire wall (NOT your car’s manual they want you to experience a cushy ride). Some recommend going 5 PSI over.
2. Buy premium, it burns cleaner and I get such better MPG it actually saves me about $2 per tank.
3. Dump the extra weight you haul around in your trunk.
4. Stop racing up to red stoplights. I’ll never understand why DC drivers will pass others in their rush to get ahead when a red light awaits them. Anyway, just coast up to them in neutral; ideally you’ll time it so they’re already green by the time you get there. Having to brake ruins your fuel economy, so create situations where you won’t have to.
5. Go the speed limit. Crazy huh? but this has really increased my MPG, plus if I get anymore tickets I’ll lose my license.
6. Quit the AC. Mine is broken anyway. Apparently the drag that open windows create is negligible at speeds below 70mph.
7. Draft trucks. This just means finding a tractor trailer and following it at a safe distance. I haven’t noticed a big savings in fuel economy but others swear by it.
8. Turn off your car at red stoplights. I only do this at the really long ones now because I am worried I’ll wear out my starter, but the improvage in fuel economy is insane!
9. Use the hills. Any significant hill you should put it in neutral and take advantage of the momentum. I take this to the extreme and actually turn of my car if A) I am in a safe area where having reduced steering and braking power won’t endanger me, and b) I know I’ll have my car off for more than 10 seconds to make it worth it. I have a stick, so I just pop the clutch when I need to start again. If you have an auto you can turn the key to start in neutral. This technique rocks and is the one I used for at least 5 continuous miles the other day.
10. Mod your ride, this could be as simple as taking off your roof racks or truck tailgate. Others block off their grills to make their cars run hotter. There is seemingly no limit to the things some people will do in order to make their cars more aerodynamic.


Piri Jenkins said...

Excellent post!

We track our gas expenditures as well and even with the high price of gas, a normal car and no fancy tricks we still spend less then $100/month. Our biggest gas expenditure is not for commuting to work, but to visit down in Accokeek.

We also pay extra money to get wind energy for our house. This is possible due to the deregulation of Maryland's electricity (its about the only thing good about it since it drove prices way up). Our wind comes from the MD/WV border.

Annie said...

What a great post! I'm so glad you have this blog. I have done a little research on some of the hypermiling tricks, though, since I drive bewteen Greenbelt/Hyattsville and Baltimore so often.

The biggest deal for me is the drafting issue; I don't know if you count them as experts too, but the Car Talk guys debunked this one. They say there's no safe distance for drafting, since you have to be about ten feet behind the truck to get any benefit, and that means less than a second's stopping time on the highway.

I have often heard that any stop of 30 seconds or less makes it worthwhile to turn off your cost (in starter wear vs. average fuel economy calculations.)

Also, and this is obviously pretty close to plain ol' speculation, the Mythbusters "proved" that having the tailgate up on a truck actually improves mileage because it keeps the air from hitting and pushing down on the bed. Or something like that.

Annie said...

30 seconds or more. I must learn to proofread.

Lynnis said...

Very interesting, Annie. Your dad is actually the one I know who swears by drafting. I do it when trucks are available and going my speed anyway but there is no way I would go so close I have less than a second's stopping time. Trucks themselves don't have a fast stopping time so you can get a little closer than you would to a car. I probably follow about 5 car lengths behind, but again I haven't noticed a difference in my fuel economy. Another thing you could try is being just behind them but one lane over, though you don't want to live in their blind spot.

Since I pop my clutch without using the starter when I am coasting I'm not worried about the 30 second rule, though it certainly applies at stop lights where you need to turn a key. Usually if I come up on a red light and the engine is off I pop the clutch to start before I come to a stop unless I know I'll be there a while.

Gordon said...

Jon follows really close in back of trucks. It is really dangerous and not worth it. He did it mainly on a recent trip to NC, not everyday. He says it resulted in really good mileage and I believe it. He was right on their ass.

Otherwise Lynnis, all of your tricks are good, and, I've been doing many of them for a long time.

High tire inflation is good, but, take it from me. Do not exceed the rated pressure. I've done so, it resulted in permanent tire bulges that ruined balance and made for a high vibration that lead to severe front end damage. Stay at the rated limit.

If a two wheel vehicle, it is better to use a LOW pressure if you travel on gravel roads like I do. The gravel beneath rolls and causes accidents at high tire pressure.

Brian said...

Using a tonneau cover on the back of a pickup truck improves aerodynamics too. Also, aftermarket hubs that are designed to spin more efficiently with less friction can save 2-3mpg on pickup trucks.

The other thing we are doing that is going to save us about $200 is joining the price lock-in for our propane. The way it works is you join the lock in and pay the reduced price for the next 6 months. For us, we saved 200 bucks... the only downside is, if the price of propane drops before june, we have to pay $50 to get out of our "lock in" but since we've already saved $200, we'd still come out on top. Collective bargaining and planned purchasing during non-peak times allows the propane companies to offer reduced prices.