Solar Trains < Solar Railways

When I first saw the headline “India’s first solar-powered train makes its debut,” I envisioned something that actually grappled with their substantial energy requirements and somehow leveraged their uniquely distributed infrastructure.  But, instead, the described pilot project puts solar panels on passenger cabin roofs for climate control.  So, small potatoes.

But recalling 2014’s Solar (freakin’) Roadways (mostly a bad idea), the better idea is to create solar railways, like:

Simply take the solar panels from the moving train and install them between the tracks.

I don’t want to write a long post, so some bullets in favor of this idea…

  • generated power isn’t moving, so it’s easier to efficiently feed into the railway/municipal grid (the power density of liquid fuels is largely unrivaled by any sort of storage, so I’d bet it is better, on the whole, to optimize trains for the efficient use of energy than to dictate what source it comes from, let the electricity go to wherever it can be best consumed)
  • trains aren’t made heavier from the panels, or substantially modified (though, given that most freight trains are diesel generator feeding electric traction, it would be cool if tracks had an electrified rail for mountain climbs and descents)
  • rights-of-way and site-prep are minimal, need only design the panels to flex with or be isolated from train deformations
  • panels are typically exposed to the sun along rural stretches
  • panels would be cleared of debris by the regular passing of trains and kept free of encroaching weeds/branches by the same
  • train-ground drag would be reduced by their smoother surface
  • a distributed source of power for many rural uses

and some limitations

  • panels are not angled to the sun (a Fresnel lens built into the glass protector could reduce losses with latitude)
  • total collection area is limited to very long, thin sections directly beneath or adjacent to the rail
  • these long, thin collection areas would require longer power transmissions than the same collection area would otherwise require (unless the rails themselves can be used as em waveguides–antennae–and efficiently)
  • the installation is not secured, theft/tampering more of a challenge than with other rail infrastructure

I’m sure I’ve missed some attributes, comment if interested.  I think the transmission issue is the most limiting, though while briefly searching about rails-as-waveguides, I saw this article about railway electrification…as it says, this is so obvious I’m a bit amazed it hasn’t already occurred.  So, maybe we can electrify rail corridors and install some generation in that developed but otherwise unused land; sure seems better than a few panels powering the AC.

#NetNeutrality

As today’s Day of Action on net neutrality draws to a close, I want to post a couple of thoughts from my FCC comment here.

First, it’s important to say that net neutrality is not the ideal solution, competition is.  We do not enjoy the fruits of competition because of substantially captured agencies like the FCC and due to the heavy lobbying at state and city levels.  Major ISPs claim to innovate as they write and support ever more burdensome regulations that greatly limit the ability of new entrants to compete, while the federal level has approved of so many mergers that the incumbents are almost entirely free of peer competition.  Every notice how the flashy Charter and Comcast commercials pitch the same bundles year after year?  Net neutrality is not the solution, but its presence is far preferable to its repeal.

Fundamentally, I want my ISP to be a dumb pipe. Many bristle at this, but, really, all that I want is for them to convey my page requests and uploads to the address I specified and to communicate the responses to me.  No more, no less.  Do this better than any (hypothetical) competitor and you have my business.  I do not want my data being inspected for ad targeting, page modification, third party sale, etc., and I certainly do not want the pleasure of paying you multiple times to do your job.  I don’t care for cable tv or phone service or your crappy jingle.  Stop wasting money on advertising and improve your quality of service, this stuff is only as complicated as you make it.  Your customers cannot escape your monopoly, as your industry’s worst overall consumer sentiment ranking shows every year.

I agree that encouraging or requiring every ISP to build out and maintain entirely parallel paths to each potential customer is a foolish and wasteful proposal, a telco strawman.  Rather, we need local loop unbundling, whereby the infrastructure is separated from the customer service and features, just as Republic Wireless is permitted to operate on AT&T and Verizon networks.  It is not out of nobility that AT&T and Verizon allow Republic’s use, but rather Congress’ recognition that spectrum is limited and should be leveraged to the greatest possible degree.

As Mike says, “So, the fight at the FCC matters, but the end game is Congress.”  Big changes to make US ISPs competitive and efficient businesses cannot come without Congressional action or antitrust action, but we can try to prevent things from getting worse by supporting net neutrality.  I cut the cord years ago because I could not justify the expense of cable tv nor bear the incessant inanity and banality of almost every channel, and I fear that giving the same cable and media companies the same control over the internet will result in the same destruction.

My FCC comment:

As a recently-graduated engineer, the internet is central to my work, hobbies, entertainment, and intellectual pursuits.  Never before has such wealth been made so widely available, and never before has it reached so deeply into each user’s life.  Expanding the equitable access to this body of knowledge and culture is a noble goal for the FCC to pursue, and while net neutrality is not the ideal mechanism to achieve this, its continuation is far preferable to its repeal.

Fundamentally, I want my ISP to be a dumb pipe. Many bristle at this, but, really, all that I want is for them to convey my page requests and uploads to the address I specified and to communicate the responses to me.  No more, no less.  Do this better than any (hypothetical) competitor and they’ll have my business.  I do not want my data being inspected for ad targeting, page modification, third party sale, etc., and I certainly do not want to pay multiple times to ensure my data is safely and securely transmitted.  My communications are extensions of myself, and when there is only a single provider to communicate them to the wider internet, that provider is in a position of power over me.  I trust my ISP to accurately, impartially, and indeed ignorantly convey random inquiries, moments of frustration, deep conversations, cultural interactions, searches for truth, and experiences out of my past.

Only in the days of dial-up, pre-cable internet, did I enjoy service provider competition.  Since then, living in Wisconsin and now California, there has only been a single broadband provider, Charter or Comcast.  Any other internet service providers have been far too limited for regular use due to fundamental deficiencies in their technology.  To keep the rate reasonable, as a college student I played the common game of threatening to cancel service so as to remain at introductory rates.  It always amazes me that prices go up while the service stays constant.  It also amazes me that the FCC, with subpoena authority, has no interest in the internal shifting of profits from ISP services to loss-leading tv and phone units, and takes consumer prices as remotely indicative of a healthy market.  While Charter and Comcast continue to produce expensive, flashy commercials for the same crappy bundles, year after year, that tells me that their advertising is not performed for competitive reasons, and it certainly hasn’t improved their customer satisfaction rantings.  Instead, they desire to maintain their image as being in and with the times, to dull the pain as they abuse us.  Our country is neatly divided between the major ISPs, and until Congress gets its act together to force local loop unbundling, net neutrality and regulations like it are the only check on my local monopoly’s power.

Ben Conrad