Friday, February 27, 2004

EC and carmarkers fight over CO2 targets

Seehere and here.

The World's First Luxury Hybrid

Well, I did not know about it until I saw a two-page ad in the Wall Street Journal last week. Lexus is coming out with a hybrid model in the fall of 2004!
Meanwhile, Honda says that all roads lead to Hybrids.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Why Green Cars Face Red Lights

Unfortunately, this link will expire in 90 days.

Why Green Cars Face Red Lights

Though the latest Prius has been attracting more private buyers than the previous model, governments have been accounting for about 50 per cent of its sales.

Ford Australia president Geoff Polites says there are still some issues with hybrids, including the life and recyclability of batteries.

Hydrogen fuel-cell technology - on which Ford's engineering is focused - could be employed in a production car now, says Polites, the slight catch being that a such a vehicle would cost about $600,000.

He says hybrid cars are an interim measure and that Ford prefers to focus on the ultimate solution, distant though it is.

For those consumers with a conscience about clean air and going easy on finite oil resources, Ford has a range of LPG Falcons, says Polities. They offer a 10 per cent saving in greenhouse gases.

Maybe we shouldn't be too surprised to see so few car makers gambling on a technology with marginal appeal to the majority of the public.

While Toyota and Honda have been prepared to educate and lead the market, some car makers clearly want customers queuing outside showrooms before they will produce hybrids commercially.

As one industry figure declared: "The public doesn't want to drive electric cars; they are boring to drive. They are smooth and efficient, but they are not fun cars; they don't make a nice noise, and they are not exciting. But when there is no alternative, they will buy electric cars."

My take on this is as follows: What if Toyota and Honda prove to be right? Will the big three be outright screwed for not really knowing how to make the most out of the hybrids and not really knowing the needs of the hybrid market? Hydrogen fuel cell cars are (at least) ten years away, perhaps more. Refer back to this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Let's Wage War On Gas Guzzlers

Peter Coy in Business week asks the president to wage a war On gas guzzlers.

Two-thirds of the oil in the U.S. goes for transportation fuels, mainly gasoline. Inescapably, then, improving the mileage of cars and light trucks must be part of the solution. Yet you haven't asked Congress for legislation to increase standards for corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). The standard for cars is 27.5 miles per gallon, the same as in 1985. The standard for light trucks, including sport utilities, is scheduled to bump up to 22.2 mpg by 2007 from a puny 20.7 today. Is that really the best we can do?

The answer is yes and no. It is possible to bump up the CAFE standards significantly, although I doubt that you can take it as high up as 36 m.p.g by 2015 as Sen. Kerry proposed. Such an increase by 2020 may be possible, IF backed up by some incentives.

Don't stop there, Mr. President. People buy gas guzzlers because, even at today's prices, gas seems pretty cheap. If you really want to demonstrate leadership, ask Congress to raise federal fuel taxes by, say, 50 cents a gallon. Then return all the revenue that's raised to the public by cutting income taxes and giving tax credits to low-income households that don't pay income taxes. The net tax increase: zero. And what about subjecting SUVs and pickups to the guzzler tax on cars? Or ending the tax break of up to $100,000 for small-business owners who buy those hulking Hummers, Escalades, and Navigators?

Now you are talking. A revenue neutral scheme which increase tax on gasoline, but keeps the total tax burden on everybody the same (or even makes it more progressive). Fees for less fuel efficient vehicles and rebates for more fuel efficient vehicles (also revenue neutral). Such a "Feebate" scheme, coupled with modest (a few cents a year) tax hike for several years and more stringent CAFE can do a lot to reduce the fuel consumption of the US light-duty vehicles.

Monday, February 23, 2004

More on the Sierra Club and UAW Op-ed.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Stirrings on Fuel

This NYT piece follows up on the op-ed piece written by UAW and Sierra Club leaders.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

More Jobs to the Gallon

In an op-ed piece that appeared in yesterday's NYT, the Sierra Club and the United Auto Workersopposed the proposed modifications in CAFE standards. They fear that:

The Bush administration is proposing to scrap these standards for a new system that would establish a series of vehicle weight categories, with a separate standard for each category. Basically, heavier vehicles would have lower fuel standards. Since they would no longer need to meet a fleetwide average, automakers would be free to add weight to all of their vehicles to make them qualify for heavier weight categories.
The result would be a reduction in overall fuel economy and an increase in pollution. America's dependence on foreign oil would increase, and our environment would suffer.
The shift to a weight-based system could also jeopardize the jobs of thousands of Americans who work, either directly or indirectly, on the production of small cars.

I think that the Seirra Club and the UAW have missed the point. While it is true that a weight based system may provide incentives to increase weight of smaller trucks, it is intended to produce a reduction in the weight of the heaviest of the vehicles. Remember that the savings in fuel are higher when you move from 13 to 14 m.p.g than when you move from 16 to 17. m.p.g. Secondly, the new format will only be applicable to the light-trucks and not the cars. NHTSA does not have the statutory authority to do anything with the cars segment (although they would love to do something there). They are trying to do what they can within their limits. I think that the criticism leveled on them is unfair.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Hydrogen Economy? Contd.

Refer this post. There was a question from Mike about Hypercars for which I have posted my answer.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Is there such a thing as a Green SUV?

SUVs themselves are not bad if they are used for there intended purpose i.e. as Sport Utilities. However, it is my personal opinion that the use of SUVs as vehicles for daily transport within city have made them useless for their original purpose. Now, the rising criticism about the fuel consumption of SUVs is forcing the car makers to bring Hybrid SUVs to market. Both Ford and Toyota are doing so. It can only help them to do better on CAFE for light-trucks segment. However, I am not sure how many will be sold. I am not even sure if hybrids and SUVs is such a good combination. However, I guess that I have a lot to learn about the hybrid technology as everybody else.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Hydrogen Economy?

Well, I had promised Adam a review of The Hydrogen Economy by Jeremy Rifkin.

I had not read anything by Jeremy Rifkin other than a few articles from his book ‘The Biotech Century’. However, the more I read about hydrogen, the more intrigued I am. So, I decided to borrow a copy of his book titled ‘The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth’ from my advisor.

Make no mistake; this is a book I would recommend to anybody who is interested in energy and the politics of energy. The book is well written and is a very easy read. However, if you thought that you were going to learn a lot about realization of the hydrogen dream, then you will come out disappointed. The first seven out of total nine chapters in the book pertain to oil. Rifkin spends a lot of his time explaining the need to start looking for options beyond oil.

One of the most interesting debates in Energy industry is about scarcity of oil. I think that the debate has moved from whether we are running out of oil to when the global oil production is going to peak. Conservative estimates from US DOE/ USGS give us about 35 years before the global oil production will peak and start to decline. Kenneth Deffeyes at Princeton, a colleague of King Hubbert who wrote the seminal piece about estimation of energy resources in science, thinks that we have less than ten years before the peak occurs. There is a whole range of projection in between these. Rifkin agrees more with the pessimists "Whether we are prepared or not, global production of conventional oil is likely to peak sometime between 2010 and 2020."

Rifkin advocates that looking beyond petroleum should be a priority. He borrows the idea from The Collapse of Complex Societies that collapse of a civilization sets in when a mature civilization is forced to spend more and more of its energy reserves to maintain its complex social arrangements while experiencing diminishing returns in energy enjoyed per capita. Rifkin states that advanced industrialized societies have become so much dependent on Oil and Natural Gas that the coming decades of scarcity could be devastating.

There are two other arguments that Rifkin offers. The first is that whether you believe in USGS or Deffeyes, the truth is that in 25 years, everybody in the world will be more dependent on the Middle East Oil as never before. This is relatively uncontrovertial. The increasing dependence on Middle Eastern Oil, coupled with the political games being played by the indutrialized countries (mainly US, Britain and France) and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism makes the situation very explosive. The geopolitical consequences of Right wing Islamic movements taking over governments in the Middle East at the time when Oil will start to become dearer are huge.

Rifkin reminds us that our current agricultural system is dependent on petroleum based products in one way or the other. "More than 17% of all energy used in the US goes to putting food on our tables".

The second argument that Rifkin supports for looking away from Oil is of course Climate Change. I will leave it to that.

So, after having painted an extremely gloomy picture of the shape of things to come, the book offers hope in the last two chapters. (The answer is Hydrogen. But what is the question? -- David Marks). We have progressively shifted from fuel sources with high carbon-hydrogen ratio to the once with lower C-H ratio: Wood to Coal to Oil to Gas. So, the next obvious step seems to take Carbon out of the picture. This is easier to say than to do, and Rifkin agrees. I have started to ask this question: So, what color is your Hydrogen? If the hydrogen is going to come from oil or natural gas or coal, then it is obviously black! The hydrogen advocated by the likes of Rifkin and Amory Lovins is Green! It comes from renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, this fact does not come out as strongly in the book as Rifkin talks about the "Forever Fuel".

Regardless, Rifkin projects a picture of a Hydrogen Economy (apperently the term was coined by General Motors) where the power of fuel cells and distributed generation is unleashed. The fuel cell cars could become a source of power when stationary, and so on. The notion that availability of energy locally and independence from Grid will empower the local communities is interesting. To make this happen, Rifkin says, that it will be essential to treat the hydrogen as a commons and "democratize energy". Community Development Corporations could play a big role in this operation.

So, the book concludes with a message that the future of hydrogen is big. It remains relatively unclear on whether this would happen quickly and how. Even then, I think that it is a reading worth your time. Rifkin makes a pursuasive, if not compelling, case for move away from Oil and towards Hydrogen. The reality is this: We are now within striking distance of being able to make Oil from unconventional sources such as Tar sands. The environmental impacts of doing so will be worse than the conventional oil. Biofuels may prove useful, but may also take up too much land area and may affect biodiversity. Renewables are not very competitive, so much that Exxon clearly ruled out significant investments in renewables. I found John Holdren address on Environmental Change and human Conditions most enlightening. I don't think we know the answers, but I think that takes care of the employment problems for at least some of us.

Will hybrids sell?

Mark Phelan at the Detroit Free Press asks whether the will hybrids sell? Not an entirely wrong question, I should say. However, I still believe that Detroit can't get hybrids on the road because they DON'T KNOW how to make them, not because they are afraid of the market conditions. I may be wrong because the truth with Hydbrids is that you need to produce them in mass to bring the costs down for the majority of the market to buy them, otherwise Hybrids will just be reduced to a niche that they are currently. Now, Toyota thinks that the way to go forward is to hybridize the entire line of their products and sell them as vehicles which save fuel and hence are better for the environment. Which approach do you think is correct: The one taken by Detroit or the one taken by Toyota??

Sunday, February 08, 2004

ExxonMobil's Energy Outlook for the next quarter century

The report is here. Comments tomorrow.

Exxon Mobil Corporation said in a report released today that the world will require about 40 percent more energy in 2020 than today and consumption levels will reach almost 300 million oil-equivalent barrels per day.

"Developing reliable, affordable supplies to meet this energy demand will be an enormous challenge. Meeting future demand and developing more efficient uses of energy while taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will make this challenge even greater," said Frank Sprow, the company's vice president for Safety, Health and the Environment.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Nissan following in to footsteps of American Car makers

Fuel economy rules could cost jobs. Sounds like a headline of a Detroit press release. But No! This time it is Nissan who is fighting to keep the dual fleet rule in the CAFE standards! Elimination of dual fleet rule is something the NAS committee on CAFE recommended.

P.S. I am not sure if LA Times link stay alive for long. A related story is here.

Friday, February 06, 2004

More on Dems. on Fuel Economy Standards

With the Michigan primary scheduled this weekend, Democratic presidential candidates' comments on fuel economy continue to get more attention.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Hydrogen: Not as easy as 1..2..3 !

A new pre-publication draft by National Academy of Sciences reveals some of the Opportunities, Costs, Barriers, and R&D Needs in the transition towards a Hydrogen economy. NYT article here.

P.S. I *hate* the open book page format in which these academy reports are presented. I have not really understood their motive behind not giving a pdf file. May be I will just wait until a paper copy is available to read it!

Bill Ford Jr. or Pinocchio?

A new ad from BlueWater Network (responsible for the California AB1493) takes a shot at the Ford president. While we all know that it is not really fair to Ford, this is a very well known strategy of NGOs to draw attention to an important issue.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Why Drive Lite is needed -- III: Betting on Democracy to Secure Oil

The Wall Street Journal is running a series titled "Power and Peril: America's Supremacy and Its Limits". Today's edition contains the fifth of the episodes titled: Power Politics: In Quest for Energy Security, U.S. Makes New Bet: on Democracy.

That's a topic not touch upon often on the front pages of major US newspapers. WSJ won't let you read the article online unless you subscribe to it, but here are excerpts:

... For more than half a century, the U.S. has veered between confrontation and cajolery as it strove to secure a pillar of its global power: a steady flow of fuel at a stable price from the Persian Gulf. The U.S. has jumped from country to country in search of reliable friends.

It has often stumbled: The shah of Iran was overthrown. Saddam Hussein mutated from prickly partner to foe. The House of Saud still stands but wobbles, both at home -- where a divided ruling family staggers between reform and reaction -- and in Washington, where people ask how an ally could spawn 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers. ...

...Today, haunted by terrorism, the U.S. makes a different calculation. Citing the absence of political freedom in the Mideast, Mr. Bush said in a speech last fall "it would be reckless to accept the status quo."

Also out to overthrow the status quo, however, are America's enemies in the region. Democracy, if it really takes hold there, could amplify their voices. Anger at Western use of Arab oil has been a theme for decades of populist rhetoric, both secular and Islamist. Just last month, Osama bin Laden, in a tape played on al Jazeera television, denounced the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a "big power" plot to control the Gulf's oil. Years earlier, Mr. bin Laden offered his own policy for an oil market he called the "biggest theft in history." A barrel of crude, the Saudi-born al Qaeda leader said in 1998, ought to cost $144, quadruple its current price.

...America's wish to keep Persian Gulf oil secure took a violent turn in Iran. In 1953, the CIA carried out a British plot to topple an Iranian leader who had nationalized the Anglo-Persian Oil Co.

At first, the U.S. had no enthusiasm for an idea it saw as a last gasp by Britain's expiring empire. Christopher Woodhouse, an official the U.K. sent to Washington to lobby for the plan, wrote later how he helped win over the U.S.: "I decided to emphasize the Communist threat to Iran rather than the need to recover control of the oil industry."

The resulting coup against Mohammed Mossadegh brought back the exiled Iranian shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who promptly invited U.S. companies to join a new international consortium to run Iran's oil industry. Washington poured in arms, turning Iran into a Cold War bulwark against the Soviet Union.

...Britain's National Archives last month released several secret reports on America's likely response to the oil crisis. A December 1973 assessment by Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee said Washington might use subversion to "replace the existing rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi with more amenable men" or try "gun-boat diplomacy" to intimidate existing rulers. But an invasion to seize Arab oil fields was "the possibility uppermost in American thinking," the report added. It said Mr. Schlesinger had told Britain's ambassador "it was no longer obvious to him that the United States could not use force."

Another British intelligence report from the period outlined a "dark scenario" under which U.S. policy makers would use force "despite their experience in Vietnam. . . . This would, of course, be a highly dangerous policy with only slim chances of success." Military action, the U.K. intelligence committee warned, would provoke Arab sabotage and leave America's European allies "badly torn."

... "We've been going round in circles for decades," says Milton Copulos, a consultant the Energy Department hired in the 1980s to gauge Soviet oil potential. Now president of a think tank called the National Defense Council Foundation, Mr. Copulos has assessed hidden economic and military costs of imported oil. If military spending directly related to protecting oil supplies and other costs were reflected at the pump, he figures, gasoline would cost $5.28 a gallon in the U.S. "We are always looking for a quick fix, but the fundamental problem is we have to wean ourselves off oil," he contends.

Unless this happens, Saudi Arabia will remain the pivot of U.S. energy security. It now creaks under political and other pressures, but Washington has to keep it turning. Mr. Bush recently named James C. Oberwetter, a Texas oil lobbyist and former head of the American Petroleum Institute, as ambassador to the kingdom.

This should be a very powerful motivation for people to be thinking more actively and seriously about Energy consumption in the U.S. Given the long time lag present for controlling energy consumption even under the best of technological conditions, means that some thought must be given to how intelligently we use our energy. Hence "Drive Lite"!

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Why DriveLite is needed -- II :Because Travel Matters

TravelMatters is based on the assumption that in achieving a world climate balance, travel choices do matter. It is a website for those interested in learning more about how travel habits and transportation choices affect global climate change. TravelMatters offers a trio of resources - interactive emissions calculators, on-line emissions maps, and a wealth of educational content - to emphasize the close relationship between more efficient transit systems and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

The Democratic presidential candidates' comments on fuel efficiency

Here, on the issue of fuel efficiency, are the answers from Democrats Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards, Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Al Sharpton.
Clark: "We now have the know-how and technology to make cars and SUVs that go twice as far on a gallon of gas by using more efficient engines and transmissions, including hybrid cars that use both gasoline and an electric motor. As president, in consultation with scientists, environmental groups, industry, and others, I will set new standards to raise the fuel economy and reduce the emissions of cars, SUVs, and light trucks."

Dean: "I support an across-the-board corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 37.5 mpg by 2015. This would apply to all passenger vehicles, and would require a closing of the SUV loophole."

Edwards: "I support real increases in CAFE standards. As we implement those increases, we must also invest far more in fuel-efficiency technology."

Kerry: "I support updating CAFE standards to 36 miles per gallon by 2015. This proposal will reduce America's dependence on oil by saving 2 million barrels of oil per day -- almost as much as we currently import from the Persian Gulf. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, smog and ozone pollution."

Kucinich: "The technology already exists to make light trucks that achieve 40 mpg and cars 45 mpg, and I will establish those standards as one early step in a major shift away from the use of fossil fuels."

Lieberman: "My 'Declaration of Energy Independence' calls for CAFE standards to be set at a level that will save 2 million barrels of oil per day by 2015. According to estimates provided during last year's energy debate, this would require CAFE standards to be raised to 40 miles per gallon. ... In addition, the fuel efficiency standards should apply to SUVs as well as to passenger automobiles."

Sharpton: "They should go up to at least 33 on vehicles and up to 24 to 25 with SUVs."

Generally, the democratic candidates support increases in CAFE, however Clark and Edwards seem to be cautious about the numbers. For the positions taken by the Democratic candidates on Technology Issues, see here,here, and, here.

Disclaimer: All opinions are personal and in no way affiliated to any other person, group or an institution.

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