Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Waste of Energy

We are up at 500 meters up in the Fagaras mountains of Transylvania in the town of Sibiu in the Saxon region of Transylvania. After staying in the capital cities of Ljubljana and Belgrade, our route took us back into Romania a couple of days ago. The Romanian border guards are conducting more thorough searches of Serb vehicles than when we left Romania almost two weeks ago. We pass through with our Canadian passports and Romanian rental car without fanfare, but the Serbs are getting pulled over and inspected one after the other. I am guessing that it has something to do with the recent tensions in Kosovo.

The weather in this area is very much like that of southern Ontario's but it has been unusually warm this entire trip. We have not seen a drop of rain and temperatures are 25˚- 30˚ daily with colder nights here in the mountains.

Belgrade is a city of 3 million people that has always been considered the New York of the Balkans and With its neon lights and lively night life it certainly has that vibe.  I didn't get to see it with my own eyes but the Chinese embassy where the US unleashed its "Laser Guided Democracy™" in 1999 is still partially damaged as well as other sites around the city. Hey it happens -- I have punched the wrong address into my GPS too.
Flying in freedom with the Coca Cola Air Force
 On Sunday, we seek out the Nikola Tesla Museum hidden near embassy row on a small side street.
Tesla is a Serbian born inventor and arguably one of the greatest scientific minds of all time.
His main claim to fame is the alternating current electrical generating system and induction motor. This motor is still by far the most common machine used worldwide today. He also discovered radio waves, x-rays, vacuum pumps, remote control and much more. His unfinished project was the world wireless transmission of documents, photographs, music and electricity. He proved his invention but JP Morgan withdrew funding because there was no profit in it. Today we call it the internet. If interested you can read more about him here.
Tesla coil
 Our guide at the Tesla museum was an electrical engineering student from nearby Belgrade university and afterward I discussed power generation and conservation in Serbia. One of the things I notice in Europe is their careful use of electricity. The cost per kilowatt hour here is only about 3 cents compared to Ontario's 10 cents per Kw/hour. On a ratio to their wages the 3 cent rate is very costly to the average Balkan citizen.

Many of our hotel rooms have an access card key which is also your lighting controller where you cannot leave the room without killing all the electrical and A/C systems. Stairwells everywhere are lit by motion sensors and LED lighting is used widely. Public outdoor spaces are also lit very sparingly with stairways being almost dangerously dark. What I found out is that their metering is tiered so that once a third tier of consumption is reached the rate increases dramatically, hence the above mentioned conservation methods.
Live better with coal fired electricity!
 Coal is still king in this area of the world for power generation, supplying 50% of their generation but clean hydroelectric also represents a large 30% portion (Canada's is 40%). Romania is self sufficient on coal and Serbia has extensive coal reserves in the disputed Kosovo region.
Romania at 17% nuclear has big nuke expansion plans and the Serbs have signed on as a nuke free zone.

Russian natural gas is used mostly for home heating and is amazingly wide spread being available in nearly every remote village and town. Reliance on Russian supplies has its pitfalls as was discovered during the dispute in 2009 when the flow was stopped for 22 days in January. The Serbs lost all of their gas supply, Romania had to rely on domestic supplies for backup, and Slovenia declared a state of emergency.

Wood heating is still a prime heat source over expensive gas with houses receiving delivery of firewood throughout every area we visited, including major cities. Chainsaw advertisements are widespread on billboards, TV and radio.
I wonder what's causing all that haze?
Our rental car is a 2008 Ford Mondeo which is large sized sedan that seats 5 passengers with a six speed manual. This car is not  available in the  North American market but would compare to a higher end sport sedan such as the BMW 5 series. It provides an easy 50 miles per gallon or 5.3 litres per 100 kms. according to the trip computer and has power to spare carrying the 3 of us and our luggage throughout mountainous terrain. There is only one car available back home that even comes close to giving 1000 kilometers per tank full -- the Volkswagen diesel.
Want this Canada? Sorry, you can't have it.
 Diesels have never been main stream in our home market and although one can don their Tin Foil Hats and postulate on the conspiracy theories of oil companies wanting us to burn more black gold, I believe it is more complex than that.

Diesels got a bad rap when the domestic manufacturers attempted to sell us some really craptastic models in the 80's turning consumers off. Environmental concerns for the stricter N. American standards have only recently been addressed and we have a serious shortage of qualified diesel mechanics to repair these cars. The biggest deterrent is the return on investment being too long,  just like hybrids. Incidentally, hybrid cars, solar and wind power generation are non existent in this part of the world. Horses are still extensively used in the Balkans, mostly in the rural areas.  When you think about it, this is still a green energy initiative without the high cost of diesel, tires and permits.
The horse owners I have interacted with are all very proud of their steeds just as many car owners are proud of their piece of tin.
"Do you want me to stop and pose?"

Owner cutting alfalfa for "Barracuda"

 My observations here confirm my belief that if energy is priced according to its true environmental and social costs, the consumer will adjust their consumption patterns. This is always a politically unpalatable solution but there truly is a "sweet spot" that can be obtained through gradual incremental price increases without damaging the economy.

Of course, Canada being one of the world's leading suppliers of fossil fuels and having an oil patch prime minister, we all know this is not going to happen soon. Pass the tin foil please.

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