Friday, February 23 , 2018, 12:06 pm | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

Commentary: Hypermiling toward Fuel Efficiency

There's plenty we can do locally to coast our way to conservation. Second of two columns.

Peaking oil supplies and climate change have arrived simultaneously, creating a global crisis in which “massive disruptions of the status quo” thinking will be needed, according to Robbie Diamond, president of Securing America’s Future Energy, or SAFE. But with that disruption comes the opportunity for this planet’s inhabitants to pull together as a global community and rethink how we relate to each other and to the earth that sustains us.

Diamond was one of the participants at a recent Tri-County Energy Summit sponsored by the Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara. While several speakers painted a gloomy perspective on the challenges facing us, some local experts pointed out practical ways communities can plan for a fossil fuel-free future.

Ventura City Manager Rick Cole described his city’s effort to practice smart-growth principles. City planners are moving away from “zoning for cars,” which he calls the “DNA of sprawl,” toward a new policy of “coding for people.” This includes creating walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, using green building practices, funding alternative forms of transportation, preserving farm land and open spaces, and developing infill rather than expanding the city’s waistline. It also calls for establishing a “coherent public participation process for determining overall form and character.”

Tam Hunt, the CEC’s energy program director, outlined a community-based plan to help Santa Barbara County become “Fossil-Free by 2033.” (fossilfreeby33.org). This plan, in line with recent proposals by former Vice President Al Gore, could reduce petroleum use by 42 percent and “save the county about $238 million each year by 2020.” Topping the action plan is increased funding for alternative transportation, such as “ride sharing, buses, trains, telecommuting, biking, walking and other modes.”

Smart-growth principles in creating communities that reduce commutes and unnecessary driving are also encouraged. In addition, CEC supports “electrifying the transportation sector by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles,” since electric motors “are three times more efficient than internal combustion engines, can be powered by renewable energy and produce zero tailpipe emissions.”

Pete Schwartz, a dynamic Cal Poly physics professor, seconded the preference for electric transportation. The vast majority of people in the United States drive fewer than 100 miles a day, which an electric vehicle could easily handle. For longer trips, Schwartz advised, ride a bus, take a train or rent a car.

Saving our environment begins on the personal level. While my husband and I haven’t ditched our gas-powered vehicles for electric yet, we have been trying to find others ways to save fuel. Recently we’ve been practicing “hypermiling,” a major shift in driving behavior that employs many subtle as well as common-sense changes that save fuel. Hypermiling means becoming hyper-conscious of how and where we drive. It’s noticing how often we accelerate or brake, and training ourselves to drive smoothly and economically. It means paying attention to the local terrain and using gravity and momentum rather than fuel to negotiate the slopes and curves. It’s coasting toward stop signs, down hills and around corners.

While so far we haven’t been able to double our fuel economy rating, as some hypermilers have claimed, we have already made modest fuel savings. More important, we’re developing the same kind of hyper-awareness toward energy conservation while on the road as we do at home, where we switch off lights, unplug unused appliances, wash clothes in cold water — all the little ways we all can practice conserving rather than squandering energy.

In the end, peak oil and climate change are creating the kind of energy hyper-consciousness needed to break free from the status-quo gridlock of oil dependence. Community-based planning and personal responsibility go hand in hand.

Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at 805.722.5094 or at [email protected] This is the second of two columns on peak oil; click here for the first commentary. This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.

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