Monday, August 18, 2008


Forget about street racing and performance cars, the newest extreme driving challenge is hypermiling.

As the name implies, the idea behind hypermiling is to constantly push the limits of fuel efficiency. If you think this is about simply slowing down and driving less aggressively, think again. Die-hard hypermilers employ various driving techniques and take dangerous, even illegal steps in their quest for the ultimate gas mileage. In the process they have also created their own language of acronyms and terms. Here’s a sample:

“FAS or Forced Auto Stop” is a favorite of hypermilers. It involves putting your car in neutral, turning off the engine, and gliding. This is not only illegal in many jurisdictions; it’s also very dangerous. Without engine power, you have not power brakes and power steering, making the vehicle much more difficult to control.

D-FAS stands for "Draft-assisted FAS”, and doubles the danger of simply FASing, by tailgating an 18-wheeler or other large vehicle to reduce air resistance.

“Ridge-riding”, means driving with a vehicle's two right wheels touching the right white line of the road, and has two distinct benefits. The first is that it lets drivers know when a vehicle is moving slowly. Secondly, it saves gas in rainy weather, when water accumulates in the grooves in the centre of the road.

“DWB or Driving Without Brakes” isn’t quite as dangerous as it sounds. It actually refers to driving as if you don't have any brakes. This means learning to anticipate stops and then decelerating by taking your foot off the gas pedal and coasting to a stop.

“Face-out” means pulling through two parking spaces so that your vehicle faces out. This avoids having to back out, brake, and then move forward.

“Potential parking” involves parking at the highest spot on a parking lot so that you can use gravity to get going, rather than relying on ICE.

“ICE” stands for internal combustion engine, something hypermilers strive to use as little as possible.

“Throwing it away", literally means throwing away or wasting gas. It refers to what most of us do when we accelerate too fast, brake too quickly, speed, idle or drive with the windows open, use air conditioning, or drive around with excess junk in our trunk or racks on our roof. We also “throw it away” when we fail to have routine oil changes or maintain proper tire pressure.

Other hypermiling techniques include getting to know your route so you can time traffic signals, avoiding left hand turns whenever possible and using rolling stops (very illegal.)

While many of the above techniques are probably beyond the average driver, for Wayne Gerdes, the man who currently holds the title of the “Most Fuel Efficient Driver in the World”, hypermiling is a way of life. Gerdes routinely get 59 mpg (US) out of a non-hybrid Honda Accord and more than 100 mpg (US) from his Toyota Prius.

Until 9-11, Gerdes admits that he drove “75 miles per hour in the left-hand lane” on his daily two-hour commute. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, Gerdes vowed to minimize his consumption of imported oil. He calculated that if everyone in the U.S. reduced their fuel consumption by 25 percent, they could cut Mideast oil imports by 50 percent, while dramatically reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

"I'm not just doing this for myself," Gerdes said in an interview with Mother Jones Magazine. "I'm doing this for my country and the world."

In 2002 Gerdes traded in his in 1999 Nissan Truck for a Toyota Corolla for his daily commute and began searching for techniques to improve his gas mileage. Three years later, Gerdes and a team of four other drivers officially put hypermiling on the map when they shattered the existing record for the most miles on a single tank of gas. Utilizing many of the hypermiling techniques described above, the American team drove a hybrid Toyota Prius 1,397 miles on 12.8 gallons of gas – that’s an average of more than 100 mpg over a 48 hour period.

Despite all of his hypermiling techniques, Gerdes’ most powerful tool is a simple fuel consumption display (FCD). He believes that if drivers could see how much gas they were guzzling in real time, they would instantly reduce their fuel consumption by 20 percent. Now that’s performance.


For more information, check out:

To read Dennis Gaffney’s profile of hypermiling Wayne Gerdes, “This Guy Can Get 59 MPG in a Plain Old Accord. Beat That, Punk”, visit

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Energy Innovation

While we sit comfortably in our temperature and lighting controlled environments, it’s worth noting that almost a third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to any electricity. This means that for an estimated two billion people living in parts of the developing world, there is no air conditioning, nor are there any lights, electric cooking stoves, computers, cell phones, or any of the other conveniences that we consider necessities of life.

Until recently, it was considered either economically unfeasible or environmentally unsound to create a centralized electrical grid in many of these impoverished corners of the globe. Thanks to some pretty amazing innovation, new technologies are bringing the services that electricity can provide to these remote areas.
The first is a unique project that is bringing renewable power to the homes in the Mexican Sierra Madre. The Portable Light Project is a joint effort of Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA), The Rocky Mountain Institute, anthropologists, engineers and doctors.

According to The Rocky Mountain Institute, The project, “combines innovative technology with the traditional values of nomadic communities, to provide renewable and portable power to areas without centralized electricity supplies. The project brings advanced photovoltaic (PV) technologies to indigenous communities in the developing world, supplying them sufficient amounts of light without the reliance of attaching to power lines or grid.”

Essentially, lightweight solar panels are attached to traditional fabrics, which can be incorporated into clothing or carry bags. The panels absorb light during the day, charging up light-emitting diodes for later use. The units, which provide light for reading and working, produce up to eight hours of light from a three-hour solar charge.

"The Portable Light Project demonstrates how nanotechnology can benefit not only the "third" world -- where more than 2 billion people currently do not have access to electricity -- but also the "first" world, where energy-efficient design is increasingly important," said Sheila Kennedy, an architect from Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA) which is leading the Portable Light team.

The second innovation, solar cooking, has been providing a safe and environmentally responsible way to cook food for decades. Using less than a few dollars worth of materials, the solar cooker maximizes the principles of the greenhouse effect to capture sunlight in a foil-lined cardboard box. The sunlight enters the box through a glass panel on the top and creates enough heat to safely cook food or pasteurize water.

For the hundreds of millions of people who would ordinarily cook their food over wood or dung fires, solar cookers are a blessing. For the estimated 1.2 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water, learning how to pasteurize water using solar cookers can also be a lifesaver. According to the World Health Organization, in 23 of the world’s poorest countries unsafe water and indoor air pollution caused by burning solid fuel for cooking account for 10 percent of all deaths.

Beyond the immediate health benefits, solar cookers offer a long list of other advantages. In poverty stricken countries, families can spend up to 25 percent of their total income for cooking fuel. Solar cookers capture energy from the sun for free.

Because food is cooked at moderate temperatures, solar cooking helps to preserve nutrients. The lower cooking temperature also means that food can be left unattended all day and provides the option cooking of low cost, highly nutritional food options such as legumes and whole grains which needs to be cooked slowly for many hours.

Open cooking fires are dangerous, especially for small children. In addition to the risk of serious burns, the smoke from the fires can irritate lungs and eyes. Fires left unattended can spread, destroying what little shelter is available.

Collecting wood and other fuels for cooking fires can take many hours, exposing the gatherers to countless dangers from animals, other humans and natural perils. Solar cookers provide a fuel-free, safe way to cook while freeing up time for other activities.

Here’s the truly amazing part about all this. These technologies are opening the door for the developing world to acquire the services that electricity can provide. In the process, they may ultimately help to change how we use electricity ourselves.


Check out for everything you could want to know about this innovative technology.

For more on the Portable Light Project visit

For breathtaking pictures of The Portable Light Project, to make a donation to support this innovative work, or for more information about energy innovation and conservation, visit The Rocky Mountain Institute, visit

Monday, August 04, 2008

10 Things you can like about rising gas prices

In recent months much has been written about how the soaring price of gas is responsible for everything from the collapse of the North American auto industry, to the end of affordable food and consumer goods. While there is little doubt that the times definitely are a-changing, there are some very good things that will likely come out of all of this.

As Amanda Ripley points out in her series of essays for Time Magazine, “10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas” (July 4, 2008), many individuals are finding options where there seemed to be none.

“They're ready to change — and waiting for their infrastructure to catch up,” writes Ripley. “They are driving to commuter-rail lines only to find there are no parking spots left. They are running fewer errands and dumping their SUVs. Public-transit use is at a 50-year high. Gas purchases are down 2 percent to 3 percent. And all those changes bring secondary, hard-earned benefits.”

Taking the lead from Ripley’s essays, here’s why Canadians should be embracing the higher price of gas.

For starters, increased fuel prices translate into increased shipping costs. As Ripley points out, the cost of shipping a container from Shanghai to New Jersey has tripled since 2000. The same argument can be made for shipping produce from California and Florida to Canadian supermarkets. Good things not only grow in Ontario, but as the price of gas continues to rise, they also will be cheaper, making locally grown produce and locally manufactured goods much more attractive.

Since World War II, the widespread access to the private automobile has determined the design and function of our cities. Today’s urban sprawl is a direct result of cheap gas. As the cost of commuting to work soars, we will be forced to rethink our relationship with the urban environment and create communities where we can work, live and play.

Ripley reports that when Florida’s Brevard Community College went to a four-day session in the summer of 2007, they saved $ 268,000 in energy costs alone. As an added bonus, “Over the year, sick leave fell 50 percent, and turnover among the 1,500-person staff dropped 44 percent,” writes Ripley. Parents with small children can also factor in reduced childcare costs and more time with their families.

In Canada, transportation accounts for 27 percent of our total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cutting fuel consumption translates directly into a reduction in GHG emissions and less smog.

Despite all the layoffs and plant closures within the North American auto industry, people still need to buy vehicles of some kind. Versatility is the key. To boost flagging truck sales, GM and Ford should forget about the gas rebates and put an e-bike or scooter in the back of every pick-up.

Drivers are also getting a lot smarter about how they drive. Last year, U.S. courier giant UPS encouraged its drivers to plan their routes to avoid left turns. In one year the company saved approximately three million gallons of gas and $ 10 million in fuel costs.

Despite the dramatic rise in cancer deaths, traffic accidents are still the number one killer of young people, aged 5 to 34. Thanks to higher gas prices, people are driving less and slowing down to conserve fuel, saving an estimated 1,000 precious young lives every month in the U.S. alone. In Canada, the equivalent would be approximately a hundred lives or more.

Commuters pay higher car insurance rates than occasional drivers. Check with your insurance company to see how much you can save by parking your car and taking public transit to work. Factor in gas savings, parking and car maintenance, and public transit becomes a much more attractive option.

Ridley reports that U.S. road travel dropped 2.1 percent in the first four months of 2008. The next time you’re backed up in traffic, imagine if 2 out of every 100 cars suddenly disappeared. Now imagine how dramatic that decrease could be if 2.1 percent of the money spent to maintain our overcrowded highways was invested in public transit instead.

Perhaps the best argument for higher gas prices is that it may be a substantial tool in the fight against obesity, as people depend more on walking and cycling, As Ridley reports, Charles Courtemanche, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, estimates that a one dollar a gallon hike in gas prices may ultimately translate into a 10 percent cut in obesity.


To read Amanda Ripley’s series of essays, visit

Check out the Office of Energy Efficiency’s FleetSmart program at