Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Midwest Driving

Interstate 35, Iowa (May 21, 2011)

One of the biggest differences between New England (or my native Italy) and the Midwest, is that here everything is several hundred miles apart. Distances work on a different scale, and people don't think twice of jumping on their car and drive a few hours to get to the big city. Ames is right at the center of the state, 3 hours south of Minneapolis, 5 hours west of Chicago and 3 hours north of Kansas City. In most cases you set the compass heading and drive pretty much straight until you hit the city. It may seem strange to think of driving for hundred of miles just to get to the store you know has the model of skis you want to try (we have done that). That is until you realize that if you live in a large US urban area you have to deal with huge commuting times to drive downtown (where work and the fun stuff are) from the suburbs (where you can afford to live). Our commuting time is exactly 3 min, from our house to our office. In Boston we were living at about the same distance from work we are now, but the commuting time was 20 min (and the parking fee about one order of magnitude more expensive). 

Something else you may notice in the photo above, taken along Interstate 35 heading north from Ames to Minneapolis, are the windmills. Iowa is windy and, being mostly flat and with a low density population, is the perfect locale to place wind turbines. Iowa in fact has the largest wind power capacity density of all US states (29 kW/km square, 50% more than Illinois, and twice as much as Texas, the next two states). In 2012 a quarter of the electricity generated in the state came from wind turbines. Just at the beginning of this month, MidAmerica Energy (a company ultimately controlled by Warren Buffett) has decided to invest 1.9 billion dollar to expand its wind energy operations in the state. The main current limitation for the growth of this industry appears to be the transmission capacity of the power lines crossing the state (the obsolescence of the power grid is an issue shared by the whole country). The availability of cheap and abundant energy, however, can spur the growth of local economy, as shown by the billion-dollar deals signed by companies like Google, Microsoft and more recently Facebook.

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