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Tired of Waiting for Efficiency

Our right to know about fuel-efficient tires.

by Eric de Place


I'm always fascinated by the "1 percent solutions" to energy. It seems to me that in order to address both climate change and fossil fuel dependence, we'll need a few big structural changes, but we'll also need a lot of 1 percent solutions -- and maybe a bunch of quarter-percent solutions too. And the advantage of the 1 percent solutions is that they're often exceedingly easy; and so cheap that they actually put money in your pocket.

So I enjoyed Cindy Skrzycki's column this morning on low rolling resistance tires:

A study by the National Academies of Science in 2006 concluded it was feasible to reduce rolling resistance by 10 percent. This would increase the fuel economy of vehicles by 1 percent to 2 percent, saving up to 2 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel annually. Michelin said that over the past 15 years its energy-saving tires have reduced fuel consumption worldwide by about 2.38 billion gallons, compared with conventional tires.

Easy, right? The problem is, there's very little opportunity for consumers to evaluate the fuel-efficiency of tires (as Clark once discovered). Not only is there no rating system in place, but a national standard has actually been banned by Congress since 1996.

No kidding:

The congressional ban, first passed in 1996, said there could be no federal rule adding to existing grading standards that would require a certain level of fuel efficiency.

A 1998 Senate report explained that the prohibition covered "any rulemaking which would require that passenger car tires be labeled to indicate their low rolling resistance, or fuel-economy characteristics."

That's very helpful. Thanks, Congress.

Luckily, there's good news just around the corner. Congress has shifted gears and is now demanding a consumer-information program in place by next year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should have a rule in place by the end of 2009, though it's not clear when consumers will actually see the information in a standardized way.

This piece originally appeared on The Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.

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"1% solutions to energy" is a notion I've not heard before, but certainly makes sense. After all, real-world economics lives at the margins (pun intended), and technical solutions should be no different.

Or, as my old man likes to say: you get enough grains of sand in a bucket, you'll eventually have a beach!

nice one - energy efficient tyres.

Posted by: Bond on 20 Aug 08

Do we really need a congressional mandated standard to be enacted? This looks more like a business opportunity than anything else. I could create a certification program that is independent and evaluate all tires. Companies who want increased press would pay me to put my stamp on their tires. It worked for LEED buildings and organic standards started that way too.

Posted by: Phil on 21 Aug 08

also, knobby tires waste body energy when you are pedaling on roads.

Posted by: hapa on 22 Aug 08

This type of tire is commonly fitted to new cars to get a manufacturer's fleet CAFE numbers down. The problem is they don't hold the road as well and braking is degraded.

It is possible to make tires a bit more efficient, but even larger improvements can be had elsewhere.

Posted by: steve on 23 Aug 08

Here's a simple 1% solution. You know how you hear about how much gas would be saved if everyone fully inflated their tires? Have cities pay parking garages to inflate tires.

Most people will be using parking garages for work and so the cars are sitting around for 8 hours a day. To make the process go faster, a computer system could keep track of when the last time a car was checked so that cars wouldn't be repeatedly checked.

Its a win-win for everyone. Cities get less air pollution, car drivers get lower driving costs, and parking garage owners have another source of revenue.

Posted by: akb on 1 Sep 08



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