Sunday, July 1, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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My Interview for Mashable

Posted: 01 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT

Last month, I was a bit shocked to find out that a blogger for Mashable wanted to interview me for a Mashable series on “5 startups improving society through technology.” Mashable, as you probably know, is one of the most popular websites on the planet. As just one example of that, it’s got nearly 1 million Facebook fans! Of course, I jumped on the opportunity.

Because the Mashable blogger, Stephanie Buck, was interviewing me about electric vehicles, I also bounced the questions off some of our colleagues on Gas2 and other writers here on CleanTechnica. The Mashable writer was on a tight schedule (partly due to her difficulties actually getting in touch with me — largely my fault), so I only got answers back from Jo and Chris of Gas2 before completing and submitting my answers, unfortunately. But thanks to them for chiming in, and for others chiming in later.

You can see what Stephanie did with the interview in this post: Why You Should Consider an Electric Vehicle. Nice post. And you can also check out 5 Startups Improving Society Through Technology for a very quick summary of the company we shared in that series (notably, I used to write for one of the other startups on the list).

But I’ve also been meaning to post the full interview here, since I think it’s a worthwhile read. Stephanie asked some interesting questions, and I think I provided some useful answers (with Jo and Chris’ help, of course).



One last comment though, before the share: realizing that many of the readers wouldn’t be all that familiar with the EV space, I actually consciously decided to focus more on end-user consumer products that excite normal folks (e.g. cars). I left out some top battery companies and discussion of battery technology for that reason.

So, at last, here’s the full deal (only pictures added):


What companies and brands are leading the curve in clean automobile technology?

I’d say that a couple different groups of companies are leading.

First of all, you’ve now got the biggest car companies in the world putting out revolutionary EVs and plug-in hybrids — the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, the Mitsubishi i (which has a base price of just over $20,000 after the federal tax credit), the Ford Focus Electric. Each of these have their own benefits and drawbacks, but they are all one large leap ahead what has come before. You’ve also got the Toyota Prius, which is now the third-best-selling car (of any type) in the world (as of last month), and Honda hybrids — these grandpas of the EV and hybrid world are going strong and really led the way.

Second, you’ve got Tesla and Fisker. These companies made EVs sexy, in my opinion. While Fisker has had its troubles, it seems to be getting on its feet at the moment, and its effect on social appeal for EVs is considerable (in a good way). Tesla is a wonder. It will forever hold a place in the history of clean cars, I think. Not only has it done what Fisker has done with its sexy roadster, but it’s also putting out a wicked cool sedan (the Model S) and SUV with falcon-wing doors (Model X) that are more practical for families.

I know my friends over on would also praise Renault-Nissan’s clean industrial diesels and Honda’s CNG Civics. However, I think the future of clean auto technology is more about electricity than anything else.


What cities and regions are making this tech a priority? Why?

The West Coast is a clear leader, especially California leaders LA and San Francisco. As just one testament to that, the West Coast Electric Highway (lined… or dotted, at least, with EV chargers now extends from California to Canada, as of last week).

However, the Midwest and New York City are also worth noting.

I think these cities and regions are making this tech a priority for a few reasons. My friends a Gas2, again, cite “out of desperation and general hippie-ness” and because people in these areas are “affluent and technologically well-connected.” Combining all of those things together and adding a bit, I think the point is that people in these places, more than others, see this technology as the future. They see that it is a necessity and that it is sprouting and nearly ready to bloom. They see it as a key solution to global warming and peak oil, and also a key money-maker as a result of that.


What are all the elements that go into a successful clean transportation program? (e.g. highways, legislation, regulations, city planning, etc.)

I got my master’s degree in city and regional planning and focused on multi-modal transportation planning and especially bicycle planning, so I can’t help but lean towards that as being a key solution. I lived and studied in the Netherlands, in arguably the best bicycle city in the world (Groningen), and I could go on for days about why good bicycling planning is key to a city having a high quality of life. Bicycling is also the cleanest ‘mainstream’ transportation option out there (when it comes to the climate, air, and water).

All that said (and so much more in my head that I am containing for now), multi-modal transportation planning and programs that give people more choice is really critical. Balancing mass transit with private bicycling options with bike-sharing with car-sharing with walking infrastructure with private cars is the overall challenge. In the US, we just give way too much weight to cars, in essence limiting our own transportation freedom.

Legislation on the local level and also on the federal level is, of course, one of the most important factors making the above possible or not. A lot more money needs to be funneled to transportation options that have historically gotten the short end of the stick. For example, while about 12% of trips are made by bicycle or by foot (and a lot more would be with better infrastructure), only about 1.6% of federal transportation funds go towards bicycling and walking. That’s just sad, and unacceptable.

And, of course, if we stopped subsidizing oil with hugely expensive wars and a large military presence in oil-rich countries, and even (I’m dreaming) funneled that money to other transportation options, we’d live in a different world, and a much nicer one. (As Jo Borras of Gas2 writes, in support of dropping subsidies for oil, “I am not a libertarian, I’m just pointing out that oil and petroleum interests have MASSIVE subsidies that far outweigh the baby shit that the House piddles out onto alt-fuels.” Well said.)


What related products can consumers expect to reach the market next?

More EVs for the average person, more plug-in hybrids, more home EV charging options, more bike-sharing programs (and expansion of the pioneering ones), more car-sharing programs (a great way to help people to go car-free, or at least to reduce the number of cars in their household), more electric bikes (this is a growing trend), more bikes for casual transportation in cities.

Also, more EV–solar power programs and offerings. A lot of big companies in these sectors have already teamed up, but I expect that will only increase with continuously decreasing solar power costs, innovative solar financing options, and new mass-market electric vehicles.


How can everyday people participate? (e.g. in car-share programs)

Drop the car if you don’t need it. I’m not saying this in a preachy way, either. Going car-free is probably the single best thing I’ve ever done to improve my quality of life. Getting around on a bike or my own two feet is just nice. A lot of people bike for recreation (it’s one of the top recreation activities), but don’t realize they can enjoy it at least as much for transportation. Living in quieter, cleaner, more human cities built for such transportation options is just impossible to beat.

To lean into that, get involved in car-sharing. That was a huge help for me in Chapel Hill, NC when I lived there (of course, rental cars can serve a similar purpose as well, but renting a car isn’t always as convenient, times aren’t as flexible, and car selection isn’t always as good). Carpooling is also cool.

A lot of people won’t tough it with a stick, but I’m also a big fan of mass transit. Perhaps it’s my sociological roots, but I think it’s very interesting to observe the public and observe society as a whole from the vantage point of a bus, subway car, or train.

Scooters also look like a pretty sweet and green option, especially electric scooters.

If you think you have to stick to cars, trucks, SUVs, or the like, try out an electric vehicle.

And, of course, follow what your elected officials are doing, and push them to clean up our transportation system. Chris DeMorro of Gas2 puts it simply: “contact your local politicians and let them know you want better, cleaner transportation options.” This goes a long way. And, once you start paying attention and communicating with these people, you’ll also notice that the huge majority of Republicans need to be kicked out (sorry, but it’s true). So, help to kick them out.

And, if you’re a rebel, you might like Jo’s advice: “Slash the tires on G Wagens and Range Rovers.” (I’m sure he was joking, btw.)


Image Credits: Mitsubishi i; Tesla MotorsBusiness Wire; Groningen bicycling images by me (Zachary Shahan)Alliance for Biking & Walking

Cheap Coal Is Dead

Posted: 01 Jul 2012 05:53 AM PDT

Carl Pope, former chairman of the Sierra Club, has an excellent series on “Cheap Coal Is Dead” over on Bloomberg. Here are a handful of key facts and quotes from Part 1:

  • “In March, the power generating arm of India's largest conglomerate, the Tata Group, announced that it was shifting its investment strategy from coal-fired thermal plants to wind and solar renewable projects. Coal projects, Tata said, were becoming ‘impossible’ to develop, and investment in them had stopped.”
  • “While coal is geologically more abundant than oil, cheap coal, close to population centers, is not. The biggest coal- producing region in the U.S. — the Powder River Basin — can get coal out of the ground for about $12 a ton. It costs roughly $60 a ton to ship it to power plants in the Ohio Valley. China's vast reserves near Inner Mongolia can be mined for $25 a ton. But by the time it travels by rail across North China, then by sea to southern coastal cities, the cost rises to more than $125 a ton.”
  • “China and India, which had been counting on buying coal for $40 a ton, now find that imported coal at $120 a ton is ‘cheap.’ Dozens of coal plants in China and India cut back capacity because of fuel costs and shortages. Indian power companies scrapped 42 gigawatts worth of new power plants. The Reserve Bank of India warned investors that coal projects were very risky.”
  • “India and China, respectively, are home to some of the world's largest coal reserves. They are the fastest-growing global coal markets. But most of their coal is distant from their booming coastal regions. Their rail systems are inadequate to ship the volumes needed to fuel existing needs, much less the growth expected by 2020. And shipping coal by rail is expensive. Most of the cost of coal is not wages, but diesel fuel used either to mine or transport it. As oil grows more expensive, it drags the price of coal up with it.”
  • “China's wind industry is eager to provide power at prices ranging from 7 cents a kilowatt-hour to 13 cents, and India's latest solar projects are bid at 15 cents. Costs of wind and solar continue to decline.”

For much more, great stuff, check out Carl Pope full piece: Cheap Coal Is Dead. Long Live Renewables. (Part 1).

Image Credit: coal crushed via Shutterstock

UK Registers Impressive Wind, Renewable Energy Gains

Posted: 30 Jun 2012 11:43 PM PDT


Controversial cuts in its solar PV power feed-in tariff notwithstanding, renewable energy’s share of UK electricity output surged 39% higher to 11.1% in Q1 over the past year, according to the Dept. of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), as the British Isles continue to make rapid headway in meeting a goal of 15% renewable energy by 2020, Bloomberg reported this past week.

Overall, so-called “low carbon generation” made up 28.4% of UK electricity generation in Q1 as compared to 26.6% in the year-ago period, according to DECC, while total electricity output dropped 3.4%. End-user electrical power consumption fell 2.3%, with domestic use expanding 2%, service sector consumption up 3.1%, and industrial use down 8.6%.

Onshore wind was the fastest growing source of electrical power for the UK overall in Q1, jumping 51% to 3.55 Terawatt-hours (TWh), while offshore wind total rated capacity increased 49.8% to 1.49 TWh. Hydro power production also registered impressive gains, rising 43.5% to 1.86 TWh.



UK Electrical Power: Sources and Uses

DECC laid out sources and uses of electricity in the UK in Q1 2012, along with year-over-year percentage changes in a table:

Electricity Generated from (in TWh):           

  • Coal:  42.05 +19.7
  • Gas: 26.68 -30.4
  • Nuclear: 17.20 -11.6
  • Renewables: 11.08 +39.0
  • Total: 99.51 -3.4

Supplied to:

  • Industry: 23.94 -8.6
  • Domestic: 33.39 -2.0
  • Other Final Consumers: 28.88 +3.1
  • All: 86.21 -2.3

DECC’s full set of Q1 “Electricity Statistics” is available on its website.

Overall, sources of UK electricity generation for Q1 2012 in percentage terms looks like this, according to DECC:

  • Coal: 42.3%
  • Gas: 26.8%
  • Nuclear: 17.3%
  • Renewables: 11.1%
  • Other: 1.3%
  • Oil: 1.2%

Coal-fired power output rose sharply, up 19.7%. Gas’ share dropped sharply, to 30.4%, as domestic UK gas production fell 14.1%, meaning that UK power suppliers had to turn to more expensive imports. These also declined, dropping 6.3% compared to Q1 2011, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports accounting for 23.2% of the total.

Norway (60%) and Qatar (23%) were the two biggest suppliers of UK gas imports. UK power suppliers turned to coal instead, with Q1 coal demand totaling 18.2 million metric tons, a rise of 15.8% from a year ago.

Renewable Energy in the UK

Sources of renewable energy in the UK in Q1 2012, along with percentage changes, looked like this, according DECC:

Renewable electricity generation

  • Onshore wind: 3.55 +51.1
  • Offshore wind: 1.49 +49.8
  • Hydro: 1.86 +43.5
  • Solar PV, wave and tidal: 0.17 +877
  • Thermal renewables (inc. co-firing): 4.00 +20.9
  • All renewables: 11.08 +39.0

Overall, UK renewable energy capacity totaled 13 GW at the end of Q1, 36.1% higher than a year ago., with renewable electricity generation capacity totaling 12.3 GW, up 33%.

In addition to impressive gains in Q1 onshore wind generation (+68%), offshore wind generation (+45%), and hydro power (+56%, due to high winter rainfall), thermal renewables, including such things as co-firing of biomass, rose a sharp 20.9% to 4 TWh. Despite the controversial elimination of its solar PV feed-in tariff (FiT), solar PV, wave and tidal power capacity increased a whopping 877%, though accounted for a comparatively small 0.17 TWh.

Looking at heat and transportation, renewable heat increased 5% in 2011, to 1,220 kilotonnes oil equivalent (ktoe), while renewable biofuels for transportation dropped 7% to 1,127 ktoe. Overall, renewable transport fuels accounted for 3.5% of road transport fuels last year in the UK.

DECC’s preliminary estimate of the overall share of energy consumption supplied by renewable sources was 3.8% in 2011, an increase of 0.6 percentage points from 2010′s 3.2%.

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