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EnergyImpacts

SkyTran vehicles require about 4 kilowatts (3 horsepower) to travel at 100 MPH (link to figures on locked http://www.skytran.net when reopened). This is primarily an issue of aerodynamics: drag at a given speed is a product of frontal area times a coefficient for streamlining. A 2-passenger tandem vehicle has a much smaller cross-sectional area than a standard automobile -- this is the primary effect. Also, the support structure of a vehicle hanging from the guideway will be much thinner than automobile tires (more like bicycle tires). However, the cross-section and drag of the magnetic levitation platform inside the guideway is hard to work out until the design is done and real systems can be viewed.

An automobile with 30 HP is wimpy; performance vehicles and heavy SUVs require maybe another order of magnitude larger engines. They need to be big for two reasons:

  1. because their weight requires acceleration (hybrids largely solve this problem) AND
  2. their frontal area is far more (much less opportunity to improve autos here.)

Therefore, SkyTran will provide 100 MPH point-to-point transportation with *a tenth or less of the energy* required by today's automobiles. This should make the fuel reductions today's oil prices and global-warming concerns impose not only not painful, but actually easy to accomplish. What other technologies have similar potential?

Another point is that the energy is electrical in the track rather than on the vehicles. This further improves the economy picture, for several reasons.

  1. Energy can be generated from ANY source, including many that are renewable or environmentally-benign: windmills or solar cells (putting them above the track is an obvious approach) or biomass or carbon-sequestered coal-burning plants or tides or ocean currents....
  2. Not needing high-energy liquid fuel for the vehicles means there is no need to use oil or highly inefficient and environmentally-damaging conversion methods.
  3. Cars become far lighter without needing engines.
  4. Energy can be generated far from the point of use and transmitted efficiently. Example: solar power towers in Mexican or Southwestern US or the Western Sahara could supply urban areas thousands of mile away using new high-voltage DC transmission lines, perhaps taking advantage of time-zone differences to supply the evening rush hour while the Sun is still high in the sky at the generators.
  5. Regenerated energy from vehicle braking can be applied to accelerate other vehicles, stored efficiently or simply fed back into the grid instead of needing heavy and expensive batteries and converters on the cars.