Posts Tagged ‘Helsinki’
Posted in Energy, industry, Motivation, Transportation, tagged carbon fiber, Helsinki, light rail, los angeles, mannheim, pultruded, streetcar, tampere, tram, turku on Thursday 2010.04.01 | 2 Comments »
They’re awesome, yet problematic. In the early 1900s, Los Angeles had an extensive streetcar and light rail network (the red and yellow cars), but it was dismantled, like in many other american cities in the thirties, forties and fifties. One of the reasons was a conglomerate of car manufacturers and oil and tire companies that bought the streetcar companies, trashed their vehicles and changed them to buses. Of course, there were many other reasons as well, and it’s a subject far too large to handle here.
Turku, Finland’s old capital and currently fourth largest city, had trams as well but they were dismantled in the sixties. A large investment in the track and electricity network was lost, new buses had to be bought and the roads had to be reinforced to carry the buses. It was the irresistible zeitgeist that the automobile would be the future – ironically, only a few years before the oil crisis.
Thankfully, Helsinki never did that. There were awful plans of putting a highway overpass right in the scenic main market by the seaside and other absolutely horrible things. It is sometimes very hard to understand that time. Making a huge graffiti to a beautiful Jugend building is next to nothing compared to some of the architectural and city ideas of the sixties.
That was the past. What about now? Well, Turku has been pining for the streetcars for a long time, and now it seems the inland city of Tampere (Turku’s arch rival no less) that never had trams is actually planning to upstage Turku in building a network. Both have populations of about 200,000.
And in multiple US cities, tram networks are being brought back. Los Angeles has built it anew and is expanding it, although it’s still far smaller than what it was in the old times.
What are the issues?
Well, tracks cost some, compared to buses that can run on roads, but tram tracks are actually not that expensive since they can be laid on roads, can make sharper corners than heavier rail tracks (trains, metro) and don’t require over/underpasses. And the “default” alternatives, cars and buses need roads and affect other traffic as well, so the difference might not be large. In Helsinki, trams are actually the most profitable of the city’s transportation sectors. They cost very little to run. Trams are also more flexible than heavier rail systems in a city development timescale (5 years) because the new tracks are quite quick and cheap to lay down. You can also leave old tracks in place without them doing any harm, to keep them in reserve in case they will be used later again.
What about the utility factor problem? Buses can have a larger network and transition a bit better from line to line. But still, most vehicles stand outside the rush hour. But it’s the same issue with everything, personal automobiles included.
It’s curious that newer trams in Helsinki actually seem to be noisier than older ones. This, I gather is from different technology – the new ones have high torque motors right in the wheels, and are designed for modern international rails that have ample lead-in to corners, meaning the sideways acceleration starts slowly. In contrast, Helsinki’s tracks are old, have sharp corners with no lead in. And sometimes the tracks are even uneven because of cobblestones, like in the senate square. This means that the older Finnish trams from seventies and eighties and the recently “stop-gap” purchased old Mannheim trams actually travel smoothly while the 2000:s Bombardier low floor trams bang really hard and are in constant need of repair.
One weird thing about trams is that they are very heavy. 30 tons for a vehicle carrying 100 people is a lot. Since the investment cost is high already and it will last for a long time, wouldn’t it make sense to actually spend some extra on structures and construct them out of aluminium and/or composites? Of course, since trams are operated much longer than for example buses, fatigue issues must be taken into account very carefully. You could then do with smaller motors, less reinforced tracks and many other beneficial things that would then reduce the cost. It seems trams, like local passenger trains have some mental legacy from the old czar era steam trains when everything was constructed of mild steel and weighed absolutely humongously – so that when a freight train or a building and a passenger rail vehicle collide, the passengers survive unharmed. Yet these trams move among ordinary traffic with “flimsy” buses and ordinary motor cars (that at times are crushed like soft drink cans in collisions with the heavier rail vehicles). Hence the high impact survivability traditions make less sense for rail vehicles moving among road traffic and could actually result in less safety overall.
Another alternative to the tram is the trolley bus. You still avoid pollution and fuel cost compared to buses and avoid the need to build a track compared to tram. The trolley buses might not last as long as trams and they have an image problem though – they’re seen as Eastern or Southern European and a poor man’s alternative. I haven’t studied the subject that much.
Use large pultruded* carbon fiber tubes to construct a triangular truss space frame, reinforced by a carry-around at the door openings. Separate the wheels from the motors with axles (jointed axle or a cardan) and use very accurately tailored suspension (possibly with active components for varying loads) to ensure very low vibration levels. Use separable high impact plastic panels on the outside and inside, attached with a large number of very sturdy fasteners.
Modern frequency converters and high torque permanent motors are a natural choice of course.
This should result in a light, quickly accelerating, silent, easily maintainable, reliable and low operations cost tram. It’s also going to cost a lot to buy, but since trams are going to be used for thirty or even fifty years, it pays itself back in a fraction of that time.
The space frame construction can be customized easily by varying the number of frame triangles, and the number of panels can be varied as well. The door reinforcements and doors need to be standard components though. They potentially need metal or in-place cured composites.
*: the pultrusion industrial process results in very straight fibers that can handle both tension and compression. A good use for the expensive carbon fiber, compared to layups where the strength is much less.
Posted in Climate, Energy, Global, industry, tagged district heating, Fortum, Granö, heat pump, Helen, Helsingin Energia, Helsinki, Inkoo, Loviisa, nuclear, Olkiluoto on Tuesday 2010.01.19 | Leave a Comment »
Nuclear plants operate at only a few hundred degrees Celsius, so they don’t have very high thermal efficiencies. Thus only a small part of the nuclear energy is changed into electricity and most is lost with the coolant fluid, about two thirds. Could it be used for something?
Traditional coal plants have long given their waste heat for district heating (and some cooling in the summer too!). This “free” energy is distributed as hot high pressure water in large pipes. It works great, especially in dense areas. This reduces coal usage quite a bit if you compare it to heating with coal electricity, or oil usage if you compare it with heating with heating oil.
In Russia special nuclear power plants, especially for isolated cities included provisions for large amounts of district heating. Though this means that the plant needs to be quite close to the city for it to be effective. It’s not done in the west. Could it work in Finland?
The power company Fortum is probably building a third unit to the Loviisa power plant complex some 100 km east of Helsinki, and it’s proposing to Helsinki that the new unit could provide a gigawatt of cheap district heating for the city. But Helsinki at the moment owns its own power generation company, Helsingin Energia (Helen), and is sceptical of the idea. Helen’s coal plants provide the current district heating and there are rules about the maximum size of a plant in the grid – if over 40% of the district heat would be provided by one plant, when it went down for some reason., there could be a catastrophe.
A 100 km long very large hot water tube system might also be very expensive. There exists a roughly 100 km long fresh water tunnel carved in rock, providing water to Helsinki from lake Päijänne, so there is some expertise regarding such large scale subterranean building.
Another way of thinking about nuclear heating is to generate normal electricity but use it to power a heat pump at the heating location. This can increase the heating power as much as five fold – ie 5 kW of heating for 1 kW of electricity. This requires no district heating pipe infrastructure but the heat pumps are expensive. They are becoming more common in less dense living areas though and are a good way to reduce electricity use if they replace direct electric heating. They also increase peaks since the five multiplier can drop to two when it gets much colder outside – because the temperature difference that the pump works against is larger.
Helen is a very good business for the city and its profits lower the local tax rate quite a lot. Those fools in the neighbouring city of Espoo sold their own power company abroad, started playing in the stock market with the money and have lost quite a bit. (And that was before the recession!)
Helen is also a stakeholder in the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear plant that is being built in Eura, in Western Finland, they’ll use part of the electricity that will be generated there. The consortium leader, Teollisuuden Voima, is a competitor to Fortum.
There seems to be no love lost between Helen and Fortum.
Nuclear power plants have been proposed for city part heating, one was even in operation in Sweden. It was built securely inside rock, but it was shut down after a mishap. There were plans to put such a small nuclear plant in the Malmi northern suburb of Helsinki in the sixties or so, but that plan was cancelled. Also, in the past, the large Granö island in front of Helsinki’s east side neighbour Sipoo was charted for a nuclear power plant, but it was cancelled and in the end only Loviisa and Olkiluoto were built. Now that the western part of Sipoo has been grabbed by Helsinki, some have proposed to dust off the old plans and put a reactor on the island. At one point when no plants had been built yet in the country, Inkoo, some 50 km west of Helsinki was also one of the possible plant locations. The pipes from there would have been easier. There already exist quite large power grid connections in Inkoo because an emergency coal plant is located there. It could be one compromise site for a small nuclear plant – far enough but not too far.Sources: personal communications with various people, an article in Tekniikka and Talous (in Finnish) and Finnish Wikipedia on Finnish nuclear history and air heat pumps.
Viking Line’s Mariella passenger and car ferry was drifting without steering capability between 00:30 and 01:00 (24 hour notation) near Utö in the Gulf of Finland on saturday morning 2009-09-19. YLE and HBL have more. There apparently was some spare power on so it was not a total blackout. This made the papers while the previous incident with Eckerö Line Nordlandia made it only to Hufvudstadsbladet (thumbs up to them!).
There was little traffic there then, but that’s just a matter of good luck.
This is dangerous, there are usually about a thousand people on board in these ships, and the Gulf of Finland is a busy traffic area, so vehicles without steering capability could collide easily.
Tallink / Silja Line sail still without such an incident.
Now would be the time to up the official supervision hugely – not after a real accident happens!
Some pics from some guys who travelled to here from midwest Finland. It doesn’t look that glamorous since the weather is cloudy. At least a proper winter this year (last winter there was practically no ice at all.) Some of the pics are from Espoo too (the neighbouring city where I currently live).
The snow kinda enhances the colors of those old houses. Modern architecture is often quite ugly compared to those pleasant roughly mid 1900:s plastered brick buildings – that are all slightly different.
You can also see some coal plants which have district heating coupled to electricity generation.