Transportation News

Have We Reached the Point of "Peak Cars"?

We've all heard a lot about Peak Oil, the point at which global oil production begins to decline because the accessible supply is simply not as big as it was the year before. Whether it has been passed or is looming in the near future, is still being debated, especially in the light of the recent boom in U.S. production. But it is highly likely that it is imminent, which is, despite the hardship involved, really a good thing, given the carbon emissions entailed, which have not been reason enough for many people, institutions and governments to press for alternatives.

But what about all of those cars and trucks that most of that oil goes into? There are a number of analysts who think that, despite the optimistic sales projections of automakers, we may be approaching the point of peak cars.

Given the fact that more and more people are pouring into cities that are getting more and more crowded, will there come a point where driving a car is simply not the best way to get around? For many, it already has. Here is the US, a significant number of people, particularly young people have relinquished that dream. Based on an analysis by Advisor Perspectives, the percentage of 18-years-olds with driver’s licenses fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 61 percent in 2010. The number of miles driven per person has also downshifted from historic highs by almost nine percent.

Of course, there are many people coming up in the developing world who see car ownership as a rite of entry into the middle class, and emblematic of the American Dream which has spread across the globe through movies and television.

Tesla Bets its Future on Battery ‘Gigafactory’

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Tesla Motors is set to make an announcement about its plans to build the world’s largest lithium battery factory in the US. Tesla founder Elon Musk has called it the “Gigafactory,” and claims that it will potentially transform the company’s future.

Leaks Make Natural Gas Vehicles Less Climate-Friendly Than Diesel

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A couple of weeks back, we wrote about how natural gas was being used to replace diesel to fuel many large trucks. California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. opened several natural gas filling stations in locations stretching from coast to coast. We wrote, “Natural gas has become an attractive option for high-horsepower trucks, because it is less expensive (by up to $1.50/gal), cleaner (23% less GHG emissions), and offers better price stability when compared with conventional diesel. It's also better for the health of drivers and the communities in which they operate. Given the high level of natural gas availability in the US at this time, it also offers the opportunity to reduce dependence on imported oil.“

A recent study, just released, reveals some information that could potentially pour cold water on this approach. The study, which was jointly conducted by scientists at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that there is currently 50% more methane already in the atmosphere than had previously been thought. The researchers have determined that this gas must come from leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain.

After conducting a detailed analysis, weighing both the benefits and costs, the team determined that from a greenhouse gas perspective, the added methane resulting from these leaks, more than offsets the reduction in carbon dioxide resulting from the switch from diesel to natural gas. In other words, according to the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, Assistant Professor of Energy Resources at Stanford, “Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective.”

The leaks, however, were not severe enough to tip the balance when it came to replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas. That's because of the enormous amounts of CO2 that comes from coal. Even factoring in the methane leaks, gas-powered plants have half the impact of coal plants.

Incentives Drive Norway To Take Lead in Electric Vehicle Sales

You might find this surprising, but Norway’s best selling cars for several months late last year were electric vehicles. EV’s accounted for more than 12% of all vehicle sales in November. With 21,000 EVs already on the road in a country of five million, EV's will soon constitute 1% of all Norwegian cars. The Nissan Leaf, priced at the lower end of the scale was the best-seller for one month, while for two months, the high end Tesla Model S topped the list. So there’s obviously a broad market being stimulated. This is a dramatically higher per capita rate of adoption than anywhere else in the world, close to 20 times that of the US.

Why so many? Well, government incentives are certainly playing a role. This is probably a case study of how effective government action can be. Zach Shahan at CleanTechnica shared survey findings that analyzed the reasons why people said they bought EVs, and rank-ordered them in a series of bar graphs. The top-ranked reason was that EV drivers would be exempt from tolls. The second reason was no vehicle purchase tax. Then was the fuel cost, about one-fifth the cost of running a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle. The fourth reason was free access to the bus lanes. In Oslo, where there’s quite a bit of traffic, EVs are allowed to use the bus lanes, which can save time when roads are crowded. This feature could become self-limiting though, as the bus lanes are filling up with electric cars which make up as much as 75% of the traffic. This brings to mind Yogi Berra, who once said, apparently referring to a popular restaurant in his native St. Louis, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”

Free charging, available at any of the thousands of charging points, ranked as the number seven reason for buying an electric vehicle.

There’s also a low annual road fee, free parking, and free ferries, and they tend to cost less to insure, probably because there are fewer parts that would have to be repaired in case of an accident.

Southwest Airlines to Provide $2.8M in Medical Transportation Grants in 2014

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Southwest Airlines is known for its triple bottom line approach that takes into account the carrier’s performance and productivity, the importance of its people and the communities it serves, and its commitment to efficiency and the planet.

Natural Gas Now Powering Up Big Trucks

Earlier this month, California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. announced the opening of the first liquefied natural gas filling station in Jacksonville, Florida. Also announced on the same day was the opening of America's Natural Gas Highway stations in Pontoon Beach, Illinois, and in Fontana, California. These stations have been erected to serve heavy-duty, natural gas powered trucks.

Boeing Aims to Cut Carbon Emissions with Sustainable Aviation Fuel

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Boeing Co. plans to introduce renewable green diesel as a jet fuel to cut carbon emissions without increasing costs. The U.S. aircraft maker is seeking approval from regulators around the world to use this competitively priced, sustainable aviation fuel. Over its lifecycle, green diesel emits at least 50 percent lesser carbon dioxide compared to fossil fuels.

Ford Announces Solar Hybrid-Electric Car

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Imagine a car that ran completely on sunlight. You could park it outdoors on a sunny day, and while you shopped or worked or visited friends, it would be quietly refilling its tank, at no cost to you.

Well, you don’t have to imagine any further, this car will be revealed to the public for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas next week.

The car is the Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept. Its announcement represents a significant leap into a clean energy future, revealing possibilities that many of us may not have even considered before.

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is the first of its kind, a sun-powered car that can charge up and run completely untethered, away from any gas station, away from the electric grid, away from civilization altogether.

The vehicle has a solar panel roof that utilizes a special concentrator lens that increases the amount of energy that can be collected from the roof area. The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept has been given an EPA estimated rating of 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway. An average vehicle owner could be expected to save as much as four metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, by avoiding grid charging. That’s about one-third as much as a typical American home produces in a year.

Rebuilding Electric Power Business Models: The Cost of Disruptive Technology

The increasing generation of electricity from rooftop solar panels has had an impact on the utility industry, and it’s one they’re not particularly happy about. A recent paper by the Edison Electric Institute, entitled “Disruptive Challenges,” sounds dire warnings about what this could mean for their future. Solar energy burns a hole in the prime time peak power sold during the day, when the air conditioning load is highest. That is when utilities charge the highest rates and when they use the most of their capacity. It’s also when they get best value from their generation assets, when everything is running at full steam.

Not only do they lose sales, but they are also required to buy up any excess power from those self-generators, providing a back-up service for them in the process, swooping in with needed electrons any time the sun goes behind a cloud. That provision is called net metering, which is now mandated in more than 40 states.

There are a lot of people who aren’t too crazy about the power companies, but we can’t afford to see them go away because of the infrastructure that they provide and support. It’s analogous to an issue in the transportation sector where, if you start getting more people into electric vehicles, what happens to the roads? A lot of the road infrastructure, repairs and upgrades, are paid for by gasoline taxes. As more people get into electric cars, how do these things get paid for? Watch for that issue to emerge in the months and years to come.

California has set a great example for a solution for the utility problem, with a compromise that balances the needs of consumers who want to go solar with the needs of the utilities to maintain the infrastructure that delivers electricity. PG&E can bill its solar customers an additional $10 a month to help maintain the grid and backup power, and can apply for a rate hike if more of its customers switch to solar. The solar power companies get an increase in the amount of power that can be sold back to the utility.

The balance is really critical. If the utilities raise their rates too high, that’s going to incent even more people to get off of it and go on to solar—which would be counterproductive. On the other hand, if they add exorbitant fees to the solar customers, that could quash the rapid development of solar. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes. This compromise seems reasonable. Ten dollars a month doesn’t sound like much, but when you add it up from many customers, it’s enough to maintain the grid.

Ford and Coca-Cola Partner to Create Greener Interiors for Hybrid Sedan

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Ford Motor Co. and Coca-Cola Co. have emerged as two unlikely partners who have together created the first-ever automotive fabrics that are 30 percent plant material. Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid sedan is outfitted with a fabric that makes use of the same renewable, plant-based material that is used in Coca-Cola’s soft drink bottles.

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