February 10, 2011
In our recent post on the World Future Energy Summit, we discussed the need for policy change in order to achieve current climate change targets. Two scientists in the United States have taken that one step further. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi, research scientist, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis; believe that all that is needed to achieve a totally carbon free, totally renewable, wind, water and solar (WWS) based energy system by 2030 is political will.
Well, maybe a bit more than that. We’ll also need:
- 490,000 tidal turbines, each with an installed capacity of one megawatt
- 5,350 geothermal plants, each with an installed capacity of 100 megawatts
- 270 additional hydroelectric plants, each with an installed capacity of 1,300 megawatts
- 3.8 million wind turbines, each with an installed capacity of five megawatts
- 720,000 wave powered turbines, each with an installed capacity of 0.75 megawatts
- 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, each with an installed capacity of three kilowatts
- 49,000 solar focusing steam power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
- 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
Basically, to achieve a totally renewable WWS energy system, we’ll have to totally renew the existing system. And that includes building a new, super-interconnected electricity transmission grid. It also involves scrapping all internal combustion engine vehicles and replacing them with electric or fuel cell vehicles.
And the cost estimate is only about $100 trillion.
The most fascinating aspect of this theory is that it might just be doable.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2030, world energy demand will be 16.9 terawatts (TW), or enough to power 47 60-watt light bulbs for every person on earth. But Jacobson and Delucchi point out that in a carbon-free world there would be no internal combustion engines, and internal combustion engines are far less efficient than electricity, so the actual requirement drops to 11.5 TW.
And if you think 3.8 million wind turbines is a lot, consider that auto manufacturers make 73 million cars per year. Also consider that much of the world’s electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is aging and will have to be replaced in the not too distant future anyway. And without all the transportation-induced air pollution, medical and environmental costs would decrease significantly.
As far as reliability of the system is concerned, a thoroughly interconnected grid will be able to re-route surplus electricity to wherever it is needed. Jacobson and Delucchi point out, perhaps a little simplistically, that if it’s raining in one place, it’s sunny someplace else, or if there’s no wind, it’s probably sunny. In other words, electricity will be generated somehow, somewhere.
The authors have determined that the only technical barrier might be the availability of rare-earth metals needed for batteries, solar films and fuel cells. But if we recycle old batteries and buildings, we should have ample supply of steel, concrete and things like neodymium and indium.
Which means the real barrier is political will, which ultimately means getting everyone onside. Most of us agree there’s a problem, but maybe it’s a little far fetched to try and achieve all this by 2030. Maybe it’s more realistic to try for 2050. Implement a more gradual shift, replacing old infrastructure as needed with new wind, water and solar generation. Maybe people will be a little more comfortable with that and a little more willing to put one of the 1.7 billion photovoltaic systems on their own roof.
February 4, 2011
If you have trust issues, this isn’t for you.
A group in Europe is collaborating on the development of the SATRE project. The road train project uses technology to link up vehicles behind a truck that sets the pace for the group. Researchers are trying to answer the question “How close would you drive to the car in front of you when you are not in control?”
The first successful demonstration of the technology that controls and links the line of cars has been completed at the Volvo Proving Ground close to Gothenburg, Sweden. The ultimate goal of the project is to be able to implement this platooning or convoy approach to driving in order to improve both safety and fuel efficiency on Europe’s highways.
But really, do you really want to hurdle down the highway at 90 km per hour, hands free, reading the paper or enjoying your breakfast burrito as technology takes it’s turn at getting you safely to the office? Wait a minute, that might not be bad.
But just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should.
January 27, 2011
Unlike the United States, there are federal government policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and they may result in gas to coal fuel switching. On June 23, 2010 the federal government announced regulations regarding the gradual phase-out of inefficient coal-fired generation in Canada in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The regulations will apply to new coal-fired facilities as well as those reaching the end of their economic life, defined as the longer of 45 years from commissioning date or the expiry of the power purchase agreement in effect when the policy was announced.
The performance standard will be the equivalent of the emissions intensity of natural gas combined cycle technology, which is between 360 and 420 tonnes per gigawatt-hour, and will come into effect in mid-2015.
Coal is used by five provinces as a primary fuel for generating electricity and accounts for 13 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.
However, some fuel-switching has already taken place. Since 1998, Alberta has added 615 megawatts of coal capacity and decommissioned 603 megawatts. Over the same period, as the demand for electricity rose, the province added 4,376 megawatts of natural gas fired electricity while decommissioning 877 megawatts.
Saskatchewan forecasts replacing its entire generating system by 2033. In the short term, it will focus on natural gas projects, including partnering with a natural gas power provider to build a 261 megawatt power station.
Ontario will phase out coal-fired generation by 2014, replacing switching to natural gas or biomass.
January 26, 2011
Coal to natural gas fuel switching the United States is a function of coal prices versus natural gas prices. Coal has historically been the fuel of choice, but the percentage of electricity generated from coal has dropped from 52.1 in 1996 to 44.5 in 2009 while the percentage generated from natural gas has risen to 23.3 from 13.2 over the same period.
In 2009, high coal prices relative to low natural gas prices caused an 11.5 per cent drop in the amount of electricity generated by coal compared to a 4.3 per cent increase in the amount generated by natural gas.
On an annual basis, the percentage of electricity generated from coal rises in the winter months when natural gas is directed to home heating. Conversely, in summer months, more natural gas is available for electricity generation, so the amount generated by coal decreases.
In the longer term, the United States Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2035, natural gas will account for 25 per cent of the electricity generated in the U.S. compared to the current 23 per cent. Over the same period, coal-fired electricity will drop to 43 per cent from 44.5.
These changes result from the expectation that natural gas prices will remain low for at least the next ten years and construction costs for natural gas plants will remain lower than those for new nuclear or renewable energy plants. Although there are no federal government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, environmental concerns will curtail new coal-fired capacity.
January 18, 2011
The Natural Gas Use in Transportation Roundtable, a group comprising representatives from the trucking, automotive and natural gas industries, environmental groups and federal and provincial governments, published its report Natural Gas Use in the Canadian Transportation Sector: Deployment Roadmap (4.2MB PDF) in December 2010.
The report touts natural gas as a clean, economic and abundant fuel for all vehicles, but particularly for medium and heavy trucks operating in return-to-base and corridor fleets.
In commending the report, the Canadian Gas Association, added that natural gas can reduce GHG emissions from heavy trucks by as much as 25 per cent, while saving up to 30 per cent in fuel costs. The CGA also pointed out that natural gas vehicles can run on renewable natural gas from landfills, digesters and wastewater treatment plants.
Currently, 99.4 per cent of the energy used in Canada’s transportation sector is sourced from refined crude oil products and only about 0.1 per cent is sourced from natural gas.
There are some barriers, however, such as vehicle conversion costs and limited infrastructure. But, with growing environmental concerns, with vehicle energy use forecast to increase 31 per cent between 2004 and 2020, and with the price of crude oil forecast to average $93 US per barrel in 2011, natural gas vehicles deserve a closer look.
June 14, 2010
In Canada, transportation accounts for a full 36 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Cars, trucks, airplanes and freight trains — they all take Canadians and Canadian goods where they need to go, and almost all consume some form of refined petroleum, which is responsible for 49 per cent of Canada’s emissions.
But there are unconventional ideas on the horizon that could change the way we move around, from natural gas-powered vehicles to jet engines powered by garbage. But some of the future’s vehicles are bound to be weirder than others.
Take, for example, a flying fish being developed by Swiss scientists. Built to mimic the contraction of muscle tissue, this floating, fish-like dirigible would be capable of moving through the air without the aid of a propeller, or the heavy mechanical components of an engine. Quiet and manoeuvrable, it uses electrodes installed along the polymer that makes up the fish’s “skin” to attract one side to the other. The result: a gentle, swimming motion.
At the moment, the 8-metre prototype is only able to move at a slow walking speed, and there are serious real-world considerations of to be taken into account, like sudden winds or other inclement weather. But there’s definite potential in any design that can reduce air and noise pollution at the same time.
The trout-like airship also isn’t the only prototype to suggest an entirely different approach to motion in the vehicles we’re already used to seeing. Kinetic road plates are already being used to capture the impact of passing cars to generate electricity, and vehicles like smart bikes and so-called EcoCabs are adding human locomotion to the power of an electric engine.
While the world waits for its skies to fill with enormous airborne fish to carry us away, though, Canadians already have a broad selection of fuel efficient cars to improve the way they get around. But now that you know that the future has flying fish in it, it might be a little harder to get excited about excellent fuel mileage.
Would a trout have a higher km/l ratio than a salmon? Only the future will tell.
November 16, 2009
Hybrids and electric cars may seem to be the darlings of the future of transportation, but German automakers don’t want you to forget about diesel.
Cleaner burning than ordinary gasoline, diesel is cheaper and has 20 to 40 per cent better fuel economy. Yet, demand is still small. However, in 2008 Volkswagon’s Jetta TDI diesel model won Green Car of the Year in the US.
Despite the award, diesel automakers are keeping a low profile, even on their brand new models. Why? Because they know in Canada, that a lot of minds have already been made up. Canadians don’t think of – or treat – diesel as “green.”
Meanwhile in Europe, diesels account for almost half of the new car sales. Here in Canada, the projection is for hybrid cars to make up about the same by 2016. Diesel, on the other hand, is projected to be only about 10 per cent by that time.
This may be due to the fact that some provincial governments (like Ontario and British Columbia) offer incentives and rebates on hybrid or electric purchases. No such rebate exists for diesel-burning cars – despite their superior fuel economy and cleaner burn.
Diesel buyers could certainly use the break; the components in a diesel car can add $9,000 to the purchase price. The costliness of diesel cars has made them especially unattractive to North American buyers, even in the best economic situations. This, combined with the perceived unattractiveness of the fuel itself makes the situation nearly hopeless in this market. But Audi has released a new slogan in an effort to change this image. Diesel. It’s no longer a dirty word.
February 2, 2009
The biggest single hurdle for pure electric vehicles (PEVs) – and there are several – is a lack of support from government and industry. Only five PEV models are even certified as roadworthy in Canada, for instance. And they are pricier than their gas-guzzling cousins.
Governments across Canada have started to see things differently, and are finding new ways to “green” their roads and entice consumers to buy low- or zero-emission cars. The federal government ecoAUTO Rebate Program has done its bit.
It offers rebates of up to $2,000 to people who buy or enter a long-term lease for certain types of fuel-efficient vehicles. But in order to be considered for a rebate, applications must be received by March 31, 2009. British Colombia offers a similar rebate for new hybrids and PEVs through a sliding scale of tax concessions.
It’s not only governments that are dangling financial carrots before prospective new car buyers, but corporations too. GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services announced a hybrid rebate program for fleets that lease hybrid vehicles. The Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2005 reserves $875 million for advanced vehicular technology projects such as hybrid tax credits.
When asked where the long-promised electric car would be widely available, auto manufacturers always shrugged their shoulders and insisted it wasn’t their fault – there wasn’t enough demand, or any government support. Perhaps spurred by surging in fuel prices in 2008, that seems to have shifted.
Who knows – maybe with enough tax incentives, we’ll see jet cars yet.
December 22, 2008
2008 proved to be both an interesting and challenging year for the transportation sector.
Each year, automakers unveil their latest and greatest designs. 2008 was no different, except for one overarching trend: more emphasis on fuel economy. Check out the radical new fuel-efficient designs.
The humble Recreational Vehicle has been the butt of jokes since, well, a long time. It turns out those cracks may have been undeserved. A 2008 study shows RVing might just be the greener travel choice.
Fuel? We don’t need no stinkin’ fuel. At least, participants in World Aeolus don’t. Their wind-powered cars race, as the wind blows so to speak.
Speaking of green racing, the University of Calgary’s Schulich I solar-powered race car recently made a trip from sunny Dallas to sunny (if slightly colder) Alberta.
December 8, 2008
When it comes to transportation, trains aren’t exactly what springs to mind when you think about cutting-edge technology. Nor are they traditionally thought of as being the eco-friendly alternative.
Ah, the noble and venerable train.
For hundreds of years trains have chugged across the country, earning a rather dirty reputation. Dirty and loud. Let’s face it, coal smoke is nasty stuff. Not exactly a tree hugger’s dream. But as the saying goes, trains have come a long way, baby. It’s time to take a fresh look at trains.
The rail industry has been working steadily on cleanliness and efficiency for years, working to improve efficiency and clean-up their reputation. Recently, the industry has made some rather interesting advances. Like what, you ask? Try increasing fuel efficiency by 80 per cent since 1980. How, you ask again? One word – lubrication.
Companies use a petroleum-based oil on the rails to reduce the friction allowing the train to move more easily along. It’s worked moderately well for decades. CSX, a company founded in the 1800s, has been testing soy-based oil. Besides being a renewable source, the soy lubricant is faster.
Much, much faster.
CSX is working on improving the performance of the actual locomotives as well. One particularly innovative measure is the use of three engines, which activate sequentially. Three sequential engines means significantly less continual use, which translates to at least 35% less maintenance.
Even before these advances, trains were roughly twice as efficient as trucks for transporting freight. That said, trains won’t ever completely replace trucks. The obvious reason is the biggest one: trucks can go places trains never will.
Photo by Craig Zeni