Thursday, November 27, 2014

Fox News Takes on 350 Bay Area/Solar Power Electric Cars--You Decide Who Won

I had a rare opportunity to talk about solar power and electric cars on Fox Business News on Nov 25. 

They mostly wanted to make fun of Berkeley's proposal to put climate change labels on gas pumps, but it did provide an opportunity to make some broader points.  Here's the 3 minute interview--you can decide who came out on top.

On the same day, the San Francisco Environment Commission voted to approve a label, possibly something like the one pictured below.  This will go to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors early next year (graphic by Raymond Pajek, 350 Bay Area Beyond the Pump team).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

California Air Resources Board Leads the Way for Electric Vehicles

California is leading the electric vehicle revolution.  This outstanding achievement was on display at the California Air Resource Board (CARB) October 23 meeting  that included a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Showcase with 20 models of EVs and Fuel Cell Vehicles for public viewing (see figure below).  The six hour meeting included many excellent presentations about CARB's Advanced Clean Cars Program and lots of lively discussion about how to promote Zero Emission Vehicles.


The entire meeting is available online here (from this site, click on Webcast,  then click on California Air Resources Board, and select the October 23, 2014 meeting)  I watched most of it online, and found it spellbinding!  I was very impressed with CARB staff and Board members--they really have done their homework and understand the numbers.  They sparred with the automakers and stood their ground (although the automakers themselves were supportive of the ZEV program, which is noteworthy compared to previous decades of resistance.)  ​Environmental  and health organizations were also well represented supporting the CARB efforts;  groups appearing included the Union of Concerned Scientists,  the American Lung Association,  the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign,  and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Some highlights (for me):

*      CARB chair Mary Nichols told it like it is:

". . .we know from our own assessment of where we're trying to get by 2030--100% of the vehicles sold in California had better be essentially zero emission vehicles, looked at on a life cycle basis, and by the time we get to 2050, we've got to change the whole fleet."

This is exactly the reality that needs to sink in to all policy makers and the general public.  I would argue that we need to move even faster (see final point in this post), but I welcome this message.

·         The automakers (GM, Ford, Toyota, and Honda among others) recommended some reduction of the ZEV program requirements, arguing that the market for EVs on the East Coast is weaker than California.   In response, during the lunch break, David Cash from the Massachusetts EPA called a few auto dealers in MA posing as a buyer.  He said that they told him that they didn't have EVs in stock and didn't seem to know anything about them.  He argued that the automakers themselves are not marketing EVs aggressively.


*    Along similar lines, UC Davis researcher Eric Cahill reported that car salespeople provide very little support for EV buyers.  They don't understand electricity rates, charging options, tax credits, and all the real advantages of EVs.


* The long meeting was mostly a lovefest of supporters of GHG reductions.  However, the open testimony period had two opponents--Tupper Hall from Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) requested a delay to California's cap and trade law (AB32), which will go into effect for gasoline Jan 1.  He was followed by Bill McKinney of the California Driver's Alliance who presented 115,000 petition signatures against AB32's "Hidden Gas Tax".  He argued that there has been "no real dialogue" on the issue.  Mary Nichols responded that 12 hearings and workshops were held with wide publicity.  Board member John Goia said, ". . .this idea that there's not notice to the public just seems ridiculous."  He argued that "the price of gasoline is very volatile, and is due to many factors--the world market, supply, demand, maintenance,. . ." 

Personally, I do think we need to be ready to defend AB32 from the likely backlash against gas price increases.  Fortunately, gas prices right now are fairly low, so a 10 cent increase would still be well below the average price of the past few years.  Still, I would expect WSPA to mount a ballot measure on this.


* David Reichmuth of the Union of Concerned Scientists applauded CARB's ZEV program which he said has been "instrumental in promoting new technology".  Indeed, I looked at CARB's tutorial on ZEVsproduced in 2009, and found today's ZEV program to be very much on target with its goals and vision.  The good news is that "All vehicle manufacturers subject to the ZEV Regulation are in compliance through model year 2013."   (source--CARB) 

One positive result of the CARB program has been the car buyer's Environmental Performance Label (see figure below).  Providing consumer information is comparable to the recent efforts of San Francisco and Berkeley to  put warning labels on gas pumps themselves (I'll blog more on this soon)

·         The gains in EVs in California over the past few years are exponential as shown in the graph below.  It shows that ZEVs and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEVs) sales have grown to over 3% of California's auto sales, with sales distributed among 11 automakers (22 automakers involved in overall program).  If CARB can keep up its efforts, along with support from the auto industry, activists and environmentalists, the future looks electric!

Apart from the points raised at the meeting, I appreciate the following points from the CARB website:

*  ZEV mass commercialization is essential in meeting California’s long term GHG, air
quality, and petroleum independence goals and stressing that "ZEVs still need to be mandated".
California Projected Impacts from climate change:

75% loss in snow pack

1-2 foot sea level rise

70 more extreme heat days/year

80% more ‘likely ozone’ days

55% more large forest fires

Twice the drought years

One Note of Caution


Just so the CARB staff and Board don't get complacent (actually I didn't sense that they were), I would like to conclude by pointing out that the California goal of reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the 1990 level by 80% is misleading.  This reduction is a global requirement.  If California and the U.S. only cut GHGs by 80%, we would still emit about 3-4 metric tons (MT) per person per year.  If China were to cut its GHGs by 80%, they would only emit about 1 MT per person per year.  If India cuts 80%, they would be well under one MT.  Clearly, this is not an equitable solution.  Since the 1990 level of global emissions was about 40 billion MTs, an 80% reduction would allow emission of about 8 billion MTs.  Dividing this equally among the 9 billion people likely to be living on earth in 2050, we get about one MT per person.  Therefore, the only socially just transition would be for everyone in the world to cut to about 1 MT per person.


Since light duty vehicles make up about 59% of transportation emissions in the U.S., which in turn make up about 38% of all California emissions, this means that the goal for California's light duty vehicles should be around 0.38 x 0.59 = 0.224 x 1 MT = 224 kg per person per year.  Given California's average vehicle miles traveled per person of around 7,600 miles per capita and average emissions for a standard ICE vehicle are 536 g/mile, current emissions in California are around 4.1 MT per capita. To reduce that to 224 kg will require about a 95% reduction in GHGs, not an 80% reduction.  It will be important for activists and environmentalists to push legislators to adopt this goal.  For right now the 80% goal is a good one, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking it is enough.







Wednesday, September 17, 2014

People's Climate March/People's Climate Rally

The planet is burning!  Mobilize now for solar power, electric cars, 100% renewable energy, and an end to fossil fuels.  Clean air, millions of jobs, and a climate we can count on--it's a win, win, win.

Plan A--Go to New York!  Be part of the largest climate mobilization in US history.  Sunday, September 21--Sign up here

Plan B--If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area come to the Northern California People's Climate Rally in Oakland at Lake Merritt.  Sunday, Sept 21, 2 - 5 pm.  More details here.

Plan C--Join one of the 2350 (and counting) other events around the world.  Find one near you here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How Clean Are Electric Cars?

I often hear the argument that manufacture of an electric car requires so much energy that it negates the savings from driving the car.  The table below shows that this is false.  Manufacture of an electric vehicle (EV) does require more energy than an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV), but the operation of the car more than makes up for this.  For example, an EV running on wind energy reduces greenhouse gases by 79%. 
The numbers below include the full well to wheel greenhouse gas emissions for ICEVs as well as the emissions in battery production, and production of solar panels/wind turbines for EVs.  For full details on the calculation and source of these numbers, please see my earlier blog post here.
Lifetime greenhouse gases from car manufacture plus operation

                                                      Car Manufacture               Operation of car                      Total
Internal combustion engine veh. (ICEV)
Electric Vehicle (EV) on average US grid
EV on solar energy
EV on wind energy


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting to 100% renewables for transportation—Beyond the Pump

Getting to 100% renewables for transportation—Beyond the Pump
Solar power and electric cars are a great start--they get us about 1/2 of the way to where we need to be.  According to the EPA chart below, light-duty vehicles (i.e. cars) produce just under 60% of the CO2 from transportation.  All of the other uses—heavy duty vehicles, aircraft, marine & rail produce the other 40%.  So how do we get to 100% renewables for transportation?

1.  The first priority is to convert all internal combustion engine cars to electric vehicles asap  (running on wind, solar and other renewables, of course!) Based on a small sample of other Volt owners, I would estimate  that about 2/3 of the total miles for an average driver are electric. That would be a reduction of 40% of all transportation CO2 (2/3 x 60%).   Note that I am assuming that the production of the car and the batteries would use renewable energy so it would contribute a minimal amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. [reduction = 40%]
2.  This can improved by more and stronger batteries in each car.  If the Volt got 80 miles per charge, then I would estimate that would bring us to 80% electric miles.  This is 48% of the way to 100% (80% x 60%).  Even better, if all EVs had a range of 250 miles, like the Tesla S, this would probably accommodate 90% of all light-duty vehicle miles—i.e. 54% of all CO2 from transportation. [to be conservative, reduction =  40% +  8% = 48%]
3.  Trucks in the cities can run on electricity or fuel cells—This could reduce the 20% of CO2 from Heavy Duty Vehicles to 15% based on an estimated 25% reduction.  [reduction = 48% + 5% =– 53%]
4.  Electrify rail and promote rail rather than highway shipping—According to David P. Morgan, Trains, July 1970, cited in Wikipedia, there were 3100 miles of electrified trains in the U.S. in the 1930s/40s which comprised 1.2% of all route miles.  Starting in urban areas, and eventually in all areas,  trains should be electrified with this very well proven technology.  That would get us another 3% reduction in greenhouse gases (assuming the current 2.7% plus some increase in rail traffic vs. highways.) [Overall reduction = 53% + 3% = 56%]
5.  This leaves the remaining inter-city trips, 75% of heavy duty vehicle trips, aircraft, & marine—i.e. 44% of the total transportation related emissions of CO2.
I see four ways to address these modes of travel.  The answer probably lies in some combination of all of these:
·         High speed charging stations between cities—this is the model that Tesla is implementing.  But when there are millions of cars on the road, it's hard for me to imagine that the high speed stations can keep up with the demand.
·         Swappable batteries—Better Place had a demonstration of this that showed it could work.  Tesla has also done a demonstration.  The problem here would be to standardize all vehicle designs to accommodate swappable batteries.  For vehicles not meeting the standard, battery trailers could be attached to the car, providing energy to run the car on the highway.  Then the trailers could be swapped.   Swappable batteries could be charged at night using excess wind power.
·         Algae based biofuel—this avoids the problem of biofuels using food crops (corn/sugar) or using biomass or fresh water that could have negative environmental impacts.  However, algae based biofuel does require pumping, stirring, fertilizer, and drying/de-watering so the energy inputs could be high, and the technology needs to be developed.  See extended discussion below.
·         Hydrogen fuel cells—this is the solution proposed by Mark Jacobson.  As long as the hydrogen is made by electrolysis of water, and the process uses renewable energy, there would be no CO2 released.  Like the case of swappable batteries, the hydrogen could be produced by wind at night or in remote locations where there is an excess of energy.   The problem is that fuel cell cars are very expensive right now (unlike electric cars) and setting up a distribution system for hydrogen is a big project (I need to look more closely at Jacobson's plan for details on this).  AC Transit has a fuel cell bus that runs on biomethane.  I think fuel cells are more practical in the near term for fleet operations such as a transit system where buses can refuel at a central location.
I confess that I like the idea of algae based biofuels because it could work with our current Chevy Volt—i.e. very convenient for us!  At the Dirty Energy/Clean Solutions conference, I did ask Mark Jacobson why he did not support algae based biofuels.  Below are his points and my responses in red.
1.      The air pollution impacts of biofuels are the same as fossil fuels (except global warming), But with electrification of urban transportation we are only talking about using biofuels for inter-urban travel.  The air quality impacts in rural areas should be much more spread out and less harmful than in cities. And the more batteries improve, the less we will need biofuels even for long trips.
2.      It takes a lot of energy to manufacture the biofuels compared to wind and solar.  But can't the energy to manufacture be included in the renewable energy we are using for all other industries?   According to this article by Raphael Slade and Ausilio Bauen--"Micro-algaecultivation for biofuels: cost, energy balance, environmental impacts andfuture prospects", CO2 emissions from algae biofuel productions average around 45 grams/mega joule.  Translating this into grams per mile this would be about 50 grams per mile.  This is about 1/2 of the 84 g/megajoule required for standard diesel production, and even more  important, this is much cleaner than the 500 grams per mile produced by internal combustion engine vehicles. (I need to confirm these figures with the paper's authors)
3.     Land use required for algae is comparable to ethanol.  According to the algae fuel company Sapphire Energy, they are now producing 0.15 barrels of oil per acre per day and plan to produce 0.33 barrels per acre per day by 2018.  At 0.33 barrels I estimate that it would take about 2700 square miles of salt ponds to produce all the oil California needs for freight, marine and air transportation in a clean energy future.  (calculations shown below) This is about 1/10 the land that corn ethanol would take for the same level of production.
My calculation of land use needed for algae biofuels:
Note:  1 barrel of oil produces 0.5 Million Metric Tones (MMT) of CO2
1.  Sapphire Energy  aims to manufacture 1/3 barrel of green oil per acre per day (using salt water ponds).  If I assume that this can be expanded to broader acreage, it would be equivalent to 1/3 x 640 acres/sq mi x 365 days = 77,000 barrels of oil/year/sq. mi.
2.  California refineries currently produce 2 million barrels of oil per day--730 million barrels per year--of which about 480 million barrels per year is consumed in California--240 MMT

3.  Assume all oil is used for transportation, i.e. 480 million barrels.   As discussed above, if we move to electric vehicles running on renewable energy, plus rail and urban trucking also on electricity, we should be able to cut that by 56%.

4.  This means we would still need about 211 million barrels of oil to maintain our current transportation system (44% x 480 million barrels).

 5.  211 million barrels / 77,000 barrels per square mile = approx. 2740 sq miles, or a plot of land about 52 miles x 52 miles.  Note that California has 164,000 square miles.  Therefore, 2740/164,000 = 1.7% of California land.   At least one promising place for such algae cultivation is the Imperial Valley, which has the Salton Sea that could provide salty water for the algae.  A source of nitrogen and CO2 would still need to be provided for the algae cultivation. 

Note that the land area would be less if other technologies supplement the biofuels—e.g. battery swapping, high speed charging, fuel cells, longer mileage batteries. . .

Based on these numbers, algae based biofuels are promising as a low carbon fuel source for transportation.  However, the Slade/Bauen article points out that there are issues with total energy required for pumping, construction, and other materials as well as water resources, land use, nutrient and fertilizer use, sources of CO2, and various environmental impacts. 

Regarding cost, the Slade/Bauen article finds that algae biomass costs about 1.60 Euros per kg.  At  $1.34 per Euro and .88 g/liter, this gives $7.14 per gallon.  At 37 mpg (the Volt's highway mileage) that is 19 cents per mile,  a little less than a car that gets 20 mpg at $4 per gallon.  Also, recall that the biofuel is only being used for 20% of total miles.  Using the 3 cents per mile that it costs to power a Chevy Volt by charging at night this gives an overall cost per mile of 80% x 3 cents + 20% x 19 cents = 6.2 cents per mile—not bad!  I'm not sure if the Slade/Bauen article includes the cost of distributing the biofuel to gas stations; if not that would add a bit.  However, hopefully large scale production and developing technology will provide economies of scale to bring the price down.   

So it is too early to rely on algae based biofuels as the best solution, but I would still argue that it should continue to be researched and developed.


Clearly there are many possible technical ways to get to 100% renewable energy for transportation. The big question is how do we make this happen—politically and economically.  Stay tuned for more!

And, oh yes, I haven't forgotten about CO2 for agriculture, industry, and heating buildings.  See the figure below (California Air Resources Board) to see how transportation fits into the whole scheme of things.  Yes, we have to get to 100% renewables for all sectors, not just transportation.  So stay tuned here as well!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Wow! What a conference!

The Dirty Energy/Clean Solutions Climate Conference May 9 - 11 was an amazing and powerful experience.  Amazing because of the enthusiasm, determination, and creativity displayed by the hundreds of participants.  Powerful because knowledge is power and the conference was packed with scientific expertise, key data, personal experiences, political savvy, and thoughtful analysis all focused on what it will take to get off of fossil fuels and get to 100% renewables.

Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor of civil engineering presents his proposal for 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the San Francisco Unitarian Universalist Church May 9.  For more details see the Solutions Project.

Panelists on May 9—from left—Mark Jacobson, Dan Jacobson—Environment California, Miya Yoshitani-- Asian Pacific Environmental Network (speaking in photo), Greg Thompson—Clean Coalition, Greg Dalton moderator—Climate One program of the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco


Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor on a panel with Dave Campbell, United Steel Workers Local 675, Los Angeles, and Roger Lin, attorney for Communities for a Better Environment at Laney College May 10.

The conference/teach-in was sponsored by 350 Bay Area and the Sunflower Alliance.  It opened Friday night in San Francisco with Mark Jacobson laying out his detailed plans to get to 100% renewables by 2050.  See  here for details.

  Worldwide Jacobson's plans call for about 4 million wind turbines, 1.7 billion rooftop solar installations, and 100,000 solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power plants.  These would provide 84% of the worlds 22 Terawatts (TW) of power that will be needed in 2050 (current worldwide demand is 13 TW).  The remainder can be supplied by hydro, geothermal, tidal, and wave devices.  Numbers for the world and for California are shown in the tables at the end of this post. Jacobson conservatively estimates only a 5% savings due to conservation and efficiency, unlike alternative plans which call for over 20% efficiency savings.  (e.g. The Technology Path to DeepGreenhouse Gas Emissions Cuts by 2050: The Pivotal Role of Electricity ) Also, unlike other plans for 100% renewables, Jacobson does not foresee using any biofuels.  

The 300 conference participants applauded throughout the Friday night presentation and the lively panel that followed.  Details of the program and all panelists can be found here .  On Saturday, at Laney College in Oakland, a full day of panelists explained the details of the oil industry, fracking, crude oil by rail, legal tactics to fight fossil fuels, political obstacles, refinery operations, ideas on how to transition oil workers to a clean economy, strategies for winning, and where we go from here.  On Sunday 15 workshops filled five classrooms with detailed discussions of fracking, refineries, how to stop highly volatile crude by rail "in its tracks", upcoming community actions, and tools for organizing.  All of the workshops had great ideas for activists making for another amazing day of powerful information.

Below are some of the points that I found particularly striking over the three days.  The conference talks and panels will be on video soon, and I will provide a link as soon as they are available.

Most Amazing Fact:  Thousands of wind turbines placed off the Gulf Coast would significantly reduce the impact of hurricanes, and would generate electricity to pay for themselves.  How could any politician oppose such a plan??!!
                               On the left, the wind speeds when Katrina hit land; on the right
                               a simulation of the reduced wind speeds if thousands of wind turbines
                               were installed off the coast--source Mark Jacobson
Most Important Political Lesson:  "We don't get the air clean without fixing the climate.  We don't fix the climate without cleaning the air."  --Janet Stromberg.  The struggle against pollution from fossil fuels is totally aligned with the struggle to cut greenhouse gases.

Best quote:  "We are all playing in the 'Save the World' Symphony" (David Braun from Californians Against Fracking quoting someone who's name I did not catch).

Most hopeful anecdote:  The pope held up a t-shirt opposing fracking and allowed a photo op. (not at the conference!) :-)

Most powerful speaker:  Dom Martin—describing how he lives 100 feet from a fracking operation in Los Angeles, "We are in a war for health, safety, the elderly, children. . . fracking is an enemy to all of us"

Most inspiring speaker:  Desmond DeSa, South African environmental leader—"We don't need the coal.  We don't need the oil.  We don't need the gas"   In South Africa, by defeating apartheid, "we dismantled an evil that was pure. . . ."We have the chance to do something. . .the oil industry has never been so weak."

More key facts:

·         Wind prices in the great plains are down to 2 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh)—much cheaper than any other source of electricity.

·         High voltage direct current lines have 75% less power loss over distance than alternating current lines.  This brings the transmission cost down to about 1 cent per kwh

·         To reach 80% reduction in CO2 by 2030, we have to stop making internal combustion engine vehicles by 2020.  [Go Electric!]

·         The cost of 100% renewables (all 22 TW) by 2050 is on the order of $100 trillion.  This sounds like a lot, but fossil fuel companies are now spending $6-7 trillion per year.  Therefore this is comparable to the amortized cost (i.e. spread out like a mortgage) of renewables.

·         Arctic oil may become viable at $125 per barrel, but at this price, alternative fuels are even more cost effective.

·         There are about 121,000 jobs in the oil industry in California out of a population of 38 million.  21,000 are "upstream" in the drilling, pumping, transporting of crude oil while 100,000 are in refining, shipping end products, and selling in gas stations.

·         Dave Campell from the United Steel Workers spoke of the need for a just transition, say by paying $25,000 to each family that loses a job in the oil industry.  Note that with 120,000 workers this would come to about $3 billion—i.e. not much considering the health costs of fossil fuels are estimated at $131 billion per year according to Mark Jacobson.  Campbell also pointed out that all labor for oil costs a total of about 2 cents per gallon.  In response to a question about union support for refinery expansion Campbell pointed out that the building trades unions are usually behind this, not the steel workers who actually work at the refineries.  Another speaker pointed out that the building trades have powerful representatives on city and regional planning commissions, which we should be trying to get on.

·         Oil companies have increased their lobbying by 400% in recent years.  They are spending 16 times as much to defeat a moratorium on fracking (SB1132) as supporters are spending. 

  • Estimates of oil in the Monterey Shale in California may be 1/25 of previous estimates.  Instead of 15 billion barrels, new estimates are now around 600 million barrels, according to Richard Heinberg of the Post-Carbon Institute.  This would be a huge drop—600 million barrels is about what California now produces in three years.  However, fracking still is a polluting process that creates dirty oil, so the state needs to ban it. [Note:  see article from LA Times 5/20 for confirmation of this report]

·         Department of Transportation (DOT) 111 tank cars are not safe for transporting volatile oil, but they comprise 77,000 of the 90,000 tank cars in the U.S.  Even the more modern CP 1232 tank cars are not safe as shown by the April 30 explosion near Lynchburg, VA.  Rail cars are tested for safety at 14.7 mph because anything faster than 20 mph is unsafe; but, as we all know, they routinely operate faster than 20 mph.

·         Bakken crude oil from North Dakota has a flash point  (lowest temperature where it will burn) of -33 degrees (I'm not sure if that is Celsius or Fahrenheit).  In any case it is very flammable, like gasoline.  Compare to vegetable oil  with a flashpoint of 327 degrees C, and biodiesel at 130 degrees C.

·         Bay Area refineries plan to bring 70,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude to the Valero refinery in Benicia (2 – 50 car trains per day), and 242,000 barrels per day to the Wespac transfer facility in Pittsburg.

·         Chevron is trying to refine more "gas oil" which has more acid and more sulfur than standard crude oil.  Gas oil is highly corrosive and led to the fire in Richmond in August, 2012 that sent 15,000 local residents to hospitals.

·         "Public opinion is not as important as public protest. . .  Obama is president of a petrostate. . .70% of the country gets it about climate change—concentrate on mobilizing that 70%, and don't waste time convincing the other 30%. . .We need 30 million people in the street. . .We're not going to win if we continue to look like this (pointing to the nearly all-white audience). . .we need to expand our numbers and diversify"—Mark Hertsgaard.

·         Denny Larson from Global Community Monitor told how the community was successful in closing a refinery in Hercules, CA because it was going to be too expensive to fix.  "Refineries do go away," he said.

One question/slight disagreement:   I did manage to ask Mark Jacobson a question I have about algae based biofuels and why he doesn't support them.  I include his comments and my thoughts in a blog post on getting to 100% renewables for transportation--see here.

So all in all the conference was a great success.  Now I'm looking forward to Climate Con II--It Keeps Getting Worse! next year