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Paul Wolfram

May 23, 2016


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Hi Roberto,

Thank you for your thorough proposal and welcome to the ClimateColab.

I like your idea as it demonstrates a good combination of renewable energy, car sharing and electric vehicles.

Also you gave some thought on how to treat non-conforming vehicles and how to subsidize conforming vehicles. I think it would be helpful to elaborate a little further on this. Perhaps describe whether there will be CO2 standards for vehicles still. These standards – as pods do not have tailpipe emissions – may take into account indirect CO2 emissions from the production of batteries and vehicles?

You state that the pod’s batteries are charged via solar-panel roofs so they wouldn’t require a plug, which would make them cheaper. But then you state that excess energy could be given back to the grid which would then require to make some sort of connection between vehicles and infrastructure. What are your thoughts on this?

Finally, you mention that the whole project will be self-funded by manufacturers and utility providers. Maybe quantify a little here. What could be a reasonable payback period for the project developers? Will implementation be globally? Or will the project be tested first somewhere, e.g. in a wealthy country or group of countries who could afford such a system.

I am interested in your thoughts.

Best, Paul

Robert Smith-gillespie

May 23, 2016


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Thank you very much for your very helpful feedback, Paul. I trust that I will be able to provide more detailed responses after the deadline has passed, because there are only 4 hours left and that will not be enough at this stage. Plus, I have occupied virtually all of my allotted space for the proposal, so any further elaboration would require rather substantial time for editing. So here are some initial responses to your questions:

1. I agree that total emissions would need to be counted, including from the production of vehicles and batteries. However, I believe that my proposal would result in reducing the total number of vehicles on the road by at least 40% due to the virtual elimination of privately owned vehicles (that spend on average, say, 80% of the day uselessly parked) and the huge jump in vehicle capacity utilization and load factors resulting from (a) shared rides, (b) significantly faster average travel speeds and much quicker turnaround times, and (c) better distribution of demand away from peak travel times by linking pod hire costs to demand. Thus, any eventual increase in emissions from the production of individual pods and batteries, if true, would be vastly compensated by the resulting huge decrease in the physical mass of vehicles being produced. 

2. I hope my proposal is clear on this, but the idea is that even though the pods would have their own solar panels, they would also be charged as needed "on-the-go" when traveling in the channels, either through inductive wireless charging or through a retractable pin on the pod's underside inserted into a power strip running along the channels. The channel network would itself generate its own power through solar panels running the full length of the network (both on sub-surface and on surface-level channels). Furthermore, the channel network would be connected to the grid. Consequently, pods could either charge or discharge their batteries into the channels' power system any time they are either traveling on the channels or when they are (densely) parked in the network's sub-surface parking areas. The whole power management system would thus involve balancing the solar power being generated from the channels with the power stored in the connected pods' batteries. (The system would also monitor the battery power levels of those pods currently operating "off the network", i.e. on normal roads, and would also take this into account for its power forecasting.) Any surplus over what is needed to respond to anticipated travel demand would then be fed into the grid.

3. Given that we are talking about very precise dimensions for pods and sub-surface channels, and specific technologies (power, communications, etc.) for running the networks, I believe we would need to start with setting some key world-wide standards to ensure systems compatibility across the globe. We would certainly wish to avoid the proliferation of pod sizes, for instance, making them unusable in other countries. At this stage, therefore, we would require a top-down approach supported at the highest political levels by key countries – especially OECD and BRICS countries with more resources and larger transport markets –, cities with visionary leaders, and key global institutions (ISO, World Bank, etc.). These global standards – along with the fact that pods running on channels would (in the medium term) become virtually the only game in town as far as ground transport is concerned – would create enormous economies of scale, reducing costs and making project paybacks more attractive.

4. Once implementation is ready to begin, I believe that it would be led first by selected large cities across the globe with visionary leaders and where the current transport problems are the biggest. These cities may be in richer countries, or perhaps also in less-rich countries where cities are already adopting innovative approaches (e.g. Medellín, Colombia). All that would be needed is for a city government to say, for instance, that public parking spaces in the city will be phased out over five years and that non-standard vehicles will not be allowed to operate in the city within ten years. Accompanied by a commitment to building the channel network (starting with surface-level channels and progressing on to sub-surface channels), this would automatically create a huge market for pod manufacturers and pod hire service providers, encouraging them to move in and make the system a success. Once it is a demonstrated success at these locations, I believe that the idea will snowball very rapidly and be replicated in more and more cities and then countries across the globe.

Negah Nafisi

May 23, 2016

Impact Assessment Fellow

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Hi Roberto,

The following link has information on the impact assessment for your proposal:



Robert Smith-gillespie

May 24, 2016


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Thank you very much, Negah. Re...

Change in Capital/Stock: 0%

Change in Use/Flow: 0%

... your footnotes state that the proposal would not affect vehicle ownership or use. Not clear what you mean by this, as I would foresee a large reduction in vehicle stock and a much improved vehicle use rate. Please see my message above in response to Paul for details.

Yes, changing laws and regulations can take time, unless there is strong political commitment by at least some leaders, particularly of cities. Then things could move rather fast. Industry would likely then also accelerate. Even without changes in regulations, several bcompanies are leading the way. I think they would jump on the opportunity, if a group of cities decided to go ahead. My best bet is on the existing global grouping of city governments that works to improve cities. Interested in your views on this.


Best regards. R.