Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Future of Energy

In a very timely conjunction, I went to a great panel discusssion of five experts, all of whom were speakers at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering 32nd Symposium held just recently in Brisbane. The title of the symposium was Future-Proofing Australia - Rising to the Challenge of Climate Change.

I say timely because the panel discussion was a face-to-face demonstration of a real conviction in the scientific and engineering community that ways are immediately available to move forward into cleaner energy for Australia.

Perhaps for me one of the most surprising moments in the proceedings were when a straw poll was taken of the audience on whether they would support nuclear power generation in Australia: the result was a resounding "yes".

Myself I'm used to being in the minority especially amongst my greenier friends when I advocate for nuclear power.

After the event I talked to one of the panelists, Peter Meurs, about his Blade EV which Peter charges from a very impressive solar array at his home. A real world example of zero emissions EV driving.

Of course if you have read my previous posts, a future of greener power generation has great implications in electric vehicles. If EV's have only relatively small takeup - and optimistic projections say 20% by 2030, then the impact on the grids emissions will likely be negligible.

But with clean power we can look to a future with close to 100% EV penetration in the national fleet - with all the zero tailpipe emissions that that would entail - without having a coincident increase in emissions from coal fired power plants.

Why this is critical is that many EV manufacturers are only going to deliver their limited EV production to countries that provide decent governmental support, with infrastructure spending if possible, but also with taxes or other incentives that make the EV's competitive with petrol powered cars. And governments will do that if they know that EV's will definitely reduce greenhouse gases.

While at the panel discussion I also spoke to another of the experts, John Loughhead of the UK Energy Research Center, who told me about the UK system of incentives and programmes for low-emissions vehicles in the UK. John told me about the UK excise on vehicles that have higher emissions of greenhouse gases, which as an example usage of the VED calculator places a duty of 405GBP (around $730 Australian) on the 4.2l V8 Ranger Rover for its 376 g/km.

When vehicle buyers are paying for their polluting ICE vehicles at a rate that reflects their actual cost to the environment it makes the extra upfront costs of zero emission EV's and low emissions PHEV's comparable on a level playing field.

The aim of the long tailpipe crowd is to spread confusion and disinformation in order to derail that message and kill off the electric car by making ICE's stay at their artificially cheap current day prices.

I'm seeing a lot of activity around the "long tailpipe" issue at present. Of course there is the E&T report which I critiqued in my last post, and before that the GAO report in June. I dismissed that report at the time as it made no negative findings about EV's.

However it was quoted in a number of articles since under headlines like "GAO: Electric Cars Won't Reduce Carbon Emissions". This is a bit of a stretch from what the report actually says which is that electric vehicles charged from coal fired power will only be 4-5% better.

Update: I contacted Mark Gaffigan (Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team at the GAO, and lead author of the report) for comment:
The bottom line regarding your questions, per our report, is that plug in electric vehicles could result in reduced emissions of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants but the environmental benefits depend upon whether the electricity used to power plug ins emits fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants than the fuel it replaces.
What Mr Gaffigan is carefully saying is that EV's could result in reduced emissions - not that they definitely won't - and that whether they do or not depends on the grid.

I am at a loss to understand the cynicism of attacks on the EV, which wilfully misquote reports and studies, and use other dirty tricks.

Do these people really believe that we can just keep driving in petrol powered cars?

We should have fixed this 30 years ago when the first oil shock occurred, when we realised the dangers of being hooked on oil and beholden to its curators, a who's who of enemies of reason and western democracy.

Here is some good science that provides yet another example of how personal management of EV charging provides the opportunity for great reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. There is no such opportunity with petrol powered cars, including conventional hybrids.

Its great to see some real science and engineering working on getting solution that work now rolled out for the benefit of all our futures.