In May of 2022, the Hudson River Maritime Museum will be running a Grain Race in cooperation with the Schooner Apollonia, The Northeast Grainshed Alliance, and the Center for Post Carbon Logistics. Anyone interested in the race can find out more here.
While Electric Vehicles are far more efficient than gas cars when measured in Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, the Northeastern Grain Race rules still give the same penalty to a liter of gasoline and 10 kilowatt hours (kWh) of grid power used. There's many good reasons for this, though it isn't as simple as it may seem.
The first reason is game mechanics: If electric vehicles were given an additional advantage, anyone who entered an electric vehicle would be more likely to win. This would discourage more clever, outlandish, unorthodox, or unconventional means of transport. If we wanted an electric vehicle race, we would have gone for Formula E.
Second is the energy density of gasoline and diesel fuel. Gas and Diesel are both close to 10 kWh of energy per liter in energy density, and overwhelmingly the fuels used in modern transportation networks. Therefore, a comparable penalty is provided for a comparable amount of energy used. While there's an argument to be made for bio-diesel and ethanol fuels having a different penalty, verification and calculation simply become far too complex for the resources available to run the race at this time.
Third, even if we electrify our entire vehicle fleets, we still have to get energy from somewhere to charge them, and we have to get the rare earth materials to build batteries for those vehicles. This is in many ways a carbon intensive process on both sides. The only real way to achieve a sustainable transportation system is to reduce vehicle miles traveled overall, whether electric or not. This means moving away from cars to bicycles and other people-powered vehicles for short ranges, and from individual to collective forms of transportation for longer distances. The penalty associated with 10 kWh in the rules should discourage the use of conventional transport and encourage other means.
Another reason not to reduce the penalty any further is the inherent advantage electric vehicles have when working in congested areas: They use no power when stationary. A gas fueled vehicle in stop-and-go traffic uses fuel no matter how far it goes, and the longer it sits stationary, the more fuel it burns without any transportation benefit. This is obviated in electric vehicles, giving them what amounts to a circumstantial advantage in game terms.
There are more reasons the penalty for Grid Electric use was kept at 5 points instead of lower than that for fossil fuels, but these become progressively more difficult to explain succinctly as they get further down the list. The reasons in this article should give you some insight, and hopefully a better understanding of our game rules.
You can find more information on the Grain Race here.
Steven Woods is the Solaris and Education coordinator at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
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