Climate & Energy

Who will reincarnate the electric car?

Automakers want to delay the transition to electric vehicles

The following is a guest essay by Marc Geller, who blogs at Plugs and Cars, serves on the board of directors of the Electric Auto Association, cofounded Plug In America and, and appeared in Who Killed The Electric Car. ----- The IEEE Spectrum Magazine for November 2007 touts on its cover: "Battery or Fuel-Cell Cars? A California Cabal Will Decide." Interesting choice of headlines. Surely a strong argument can be made that something approaching a cabal turned a practical electric-cars-on-the-road mandate into a research and development program for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Carmakers are desirous of delaying the inevitable but problematic move to electric drive. Oil companies shut out of electric markets are exploring biofuels and hydrogen as potential markets they could control. Academics awash in government and corporate grants analyse and research biofuels and hydrogen. The problem with electric is it is here now. Proven, ready to market. No significant need for research. Batteries could always use a nudge, but the 100-plus-mile battery has existed for over a decade. Price needs to come down by a factor of two at most, not a factor of 100. Economies of scale, baby! Facts are facts. Not five years ago we had thousands (about 6,000, to be exact) of battery electrics as daily drivers for consumers like you and me and utility fleets like PG&E and SCE. Thanks to Plug In America's predecessor, about 1000 of those cars still drive today on the original batteries using existing electric infrastructure. Their owners love them, and when one appears on the used car market it sells for more than the $42,000 original MSRP.

Hope for a post-Kyoto agreement?

China is prepared to make a climate deal

Potentially a very big deal -- The Independent reports "China 'will agree to cut its carbon emissions'": China, now the world's biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, will eventually agree to cut its soaring carbon dioxide emissions, one of the country's leading environmentalists forecast yesterday -- but only on the basis of a deal with the United States and the rest of the developed world. When is eventually? The Chinese would be very unlikely to set their own unilateral target for reducing CO2, said Professor C S Kiang, the founding dean of the College of Environmental Science at the University of Beijing. But they would join in the next, post-2012 stage of the Kyoto protocol, the international climate change treaty, and seek to reduce their emissions to a definite figure, as long as this was part of a global agreement that involved all countries acting together -- including the US -- and the transfer to China of modern energy technology, he said. Now, Kiang says, all the world needs is a new U.S. President:

Advocates talk up concentrated solar power

It would provide an endlessly renewable, carbon-free power supply, and be a means of bringing drinkable water to those who need it most — on the cheap. An environmentalist’s utopian imaginings? Advocates of concentrated solar power say it could be the future.

How to keep wind power soaring

If you are interested in how wind power can continue to soar, be sure to read an excellent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: "Using the Federal Production Tax Credit to Build a Durable Market for Wind Power in the United States" (PDF). The authors conclude: ... our analysis suggests that a longer-term extension of the federal PTC may provide a number of benefits, including accelerated wind deployment, reductions in installed wind project costs, and increased domestic wind turbine and component manufacturing. At the same time, we also identify several PTC design considerations, beyond the duration of any extension, that may deserve consideration by Congress. Thanks to Hal L. for sending this my way. This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Farm Belt residents not gung-ho about ethanol plants

One might expect that ethanol plants would be unconditionally embraced in the farm belt, but farm families are not immune to NIMBY-ism. When plans for an ethanol distillery were announced for the outskirts of Sparta, Wis., residents concerned about emissions, odor, and, yes, the view, printed up T-shirts: “Good idea. Bad location.” Residents of New Castle, Ind., are also lobbying against a proposed plant. “We’re not against ethanol production whatsoever,” says activist Lonnie Nation. “But if you put it where they want to, you’re going to be squeezing all our homes between an ethanol plant and a prison. What will …

OPEC issues bizarre oil threat, <em>Financial Times</em> also confused

OPEC nations demand that petroleum-consuming countries maintain current thirst for oil

NPR's Marketplace called me today for comments on this bizarre Financial Times article: "Opec to seek assurances on oil demand." Apparently these absurdly rich countries -- with projected revenues of $658 billion this year -- who are selling their product at nearly $100 a barrel, are threatening not to invest in new production unless the consuming countries promise to maintain demand. Seriously! No, seriously: Opec will this week seek assurances from some of the world's biggest oil consumers that they will maintain their demand as the members of the oil cartel come under intense pressure to boost investment in production capacity. This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard, which is saying a lot considering who our president is. First off, who exactly can speak for the consuming nations and make a binding promise to keep up demand in the face of record-breaking prices? Nobody. This is capitalism. If high prices lead to fuel-switching, how could, say, President Bush, promise to stop it -- especially since he has already promised to encourage fuel switching? Second, as I blogged recently, pretty much every producing country, except Saudi Arabia, is producing flat out. Yet demand keeps going up even at these prices. If OPEC is really worried about demand destruction, then they should want to invest in as much new production as quickly as possible. Indeed, the IEA predicted back in July that the world will see "increasing market tightness beyond 2010, with OPEC spare capacity declining to minimal levels by 2012." Third, IEA projects global oil demand will "expand by 1.9 million barrels a day, or 2.2% a year on average, reaching 95.8 million barrels a day by 2012, up from 86.13 million barrels a day this year." OPEC would be crazy not to invest in as much new supply as they could to meet this demand. Where is a better place for their money -- holding dollars? So what is the real motive behind this bizarre threat? And how is the normally dependable Financial Times confused?

Group urges Congress to ban bunker fuel in wake of S.F. oil spill

In the wake of the catastrophic oil spill in San Francisco Bay, green group Friends of the Earth has started a petition drive urging Congress to ban the use of bunker fuel, which is gooey, chock full o’ toxins, and slow to break down. The fuel, a byproduct of oil refining, is favored by the shipping industry because it’s cheap; it’s also “the dirtiest fuel on the planet,” says aptly named activist Teri Shore. In other catastrophic oil spill updates, the one in Russia may end up killing some 30,000 birds and countless fish.

Independent Québec

Backing away from corn ethanol

The big news north of the (U.S.) border is that Québec's government has decided that there is no future in corn ethanol. As explained in an article posted on Canada's Cyberpresse website, back in May 2005 Québec's then Minister for Agriculture, Yvon Vallières, gave a green light, "for obvious economic and ecological reasons," to the construction of the first plant to manufacture ethanol from corn kernels, in the town of Varennes. However, during an emission of the Enquête television program (click to view) on Radio-Canada last Thursday evening, Québec's Minister for Natural Resources, Claude Béchard, promised that the 120-million-litre-per year Varennes plant would be the first and the last of its kind. "It is necessary to turn to other [feedstock] sources," he said. No other ethanol factory based on corn will be built in Québec. On Sunday, a leader in one of Montreal's newspapers, The Gazette expressed satisfaction with the decision, declaring, "Backing away from ethanol makes sense."

The 'other' Achilles heel of coal

Coal plants, like nuclear, suck up lots of water during operation

We've seen states like Kansas reject coal plants because of concerns the emissions will accelerate global warming. That's coal's biggest fatal flaw. We've also seen that nuclear power has its own Achilles heel in a globally warmed world -- water. Now the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a major editorial, raises both the emissions issue and the water issue for coal. It questions whether now is the time to be building thirsty coal plants in a state where major water sources like Lake Lanier (see picture) are drying up: Months before the drought had seized the public's full attention, the state Environmental Protection Division [EPD] granted permits for a new coal-fired power plant in Early County, a rural community in a severely depressed corner of southwest Georgia. But for a variety of reasons -- including mounting concerns about long-lasting water shortages and worsening air pollution -- state regulators ought to reconsider, or perhaps even reverse, their decision.The drought has forced citizens and political officials to confront environmental concerns that are usually brushed aside. So, while Mother Nature has our attention, Georgia's leaders should think broadly about conserving all of our resources and expanding our energy portfolio. Just how much water does the coal plant need?

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