Yes, electric vehicles really are better than fossil fuel burners

Hans-Werner Sinn’s opinion piece on whether electric cars are as climate friendly as they seem generated a good deal of controversy. William Todts, executive director of Transport & Environment, gives his response. William Todts


 ‘If we want to halt global warming we need vehicles that don’t burn stuff.’ Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hans-Werner Sinn is quite the character. This German economics professor’s writings range from the Greek crisis to migration, to German energy policy.

Recently he has discovered a new passion: electric vehicles. Back in April Sinn published a paper claiming electric cars were worse than diesel. The study was roundly criticised for being misleading. Even Germany’s largest carmaker VW felt compelled to publicly contradict the report days after its publication, giving a rare glimpse of its own lifecycle analysis based on company-specific data that shows Volkswagen EVs are better than their diesels.

Yet rather than backing down, Sinn’s now back at it in an article published by the Guardian. Rather than forcing carmakers to invest in clean technology – the EU’s current policy – Sinn proposes introducing a big fuel tax on car drivers which he believes would be more effective than forcing German carmakers to go electric.

But this isn’t about Sinn. In fact, whenever you read a newspaper article claiming EVs are worse than diesel or petrol cars, that article will be based on a report that deliberately makes EVs look worse than they are.

Usually the plot is as follows: a smaller petrol or diesel car is compared with a bigger, more powerful electric car; then the fossil fuel car is assumed to be as efficient as the EU’s official tests portray (in reality its fuel economy is always a lot worse); and finally the electric car is driving in a region with a very dirty electricity mix. Then you assume very high emissions for battery production based on outdated studies and finally you pretend electric cars don’t last very long and that its batteries aren’t reused or recycled.

There will always be a new study with some flawed assumptions to keep us all busy and we could rebut these until we all drop. The advantage for the oil and diesel industry is that articles and reports, however poor, keep the controversy alive. Discrediting or distorting science is a political strategy, as Naomi Oreskes chronicles so well in Merchants of Doubt.

So let’s skip the detailed rebuttal and just look at some basic facts. Every year we burn around 275m tonnes of petroleum and diesel in cars, vans and trucks in the EU alone. Petrol and diesel vehicles are hugely inefficient. Around 70% of the energy that goes into a car engine is wasted. Oil that is burned cannot be recovered, reused or recycled. Oil cannot be made clean. Actually, thanks to the rise of unconventional oil, it is getting dirtier.

So if we want to halt global warming we need vehicles that don’t burn stuff. That’s the unique appeal of electric cars, trains and buses. They’re ultra-efficient and have no tailpipe emissions. And yes, of course, we’ll need clean electricity to run the vehicles and to produce the cars and batteries.

But we know how to make power clean and we’re making rapid progress towards exactly that. The UK has almost got rid of coalGermany is phasing it out, and even in Poland and Trump’s America, coal is in decline. Meanwhile clean wind and solar power are on the rise. By 2030 half of the EU’s electricity will come from renewables driven by renewable electricity mandates and the increasingly robust EU carbon pricing scheme.

The rise of electric cars and green power are some of the biggest climate success stories of the past few years. It is the result of regulators in Europe, California and China doing their job and industry rising to the occasion. It shows what we can achieve if we set industry ambitious goals to clean up its act.

That might not please some but it is fair, effective and, for the climate, unequivocally a good thing. As the Nobel prize committee eloquently put it: “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.” SOURCE

 

Energy efficiency is key to climate action, but which provinces are leading the way?

Energy efficiency: Canada’s ‘unsung hero’ of climate action


(Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

When it comes to action on climate change, a lot of emphasis is put on finding ways to green the power grid. One of the lesser-known strategies of reducing emissions, however, is focusing on energy efficiency — that is, building or retrofitting structures and vehicles so they use as little power as possible.

“I don’t think it’s discussed enough. It’s the unsung hero of Canada’s energy system,” said Brendan Haley, policy director of Efficiency Canada, who said that energy efficiency could represent 40 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to meet the targets of the Paris Accord.

The federal government has recognized the importance of energy efficiency, and cites it specifically in its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. “But it’s really the provinces that are the implementers,” said Haley.

With this in mind, Efficiency Canada released a scorecard this week comparing how each province is doing across a broad list of categories, including “Energy Efficiency Programs,” “Enabling Policies,” “Buildings,” “Transportation” and “Industry.”

Out of a score of 100, British Columbia finished first, followed by Quebec and Ontario. Here’s the overall ranking:

1.     B.C. (56 points)

2.     Quebec (48)

3.     Ontario (47)

4.     Nova Scotia (45)

5.     Manitoba (32)

6.     Alberta (30)

7.     Prince Edward Island (26)

8.     New Brunswick (24)

9.     Saskatchewan (18)

10. Newfoundland and Labrador (15)

While B.C. scored well in most categories, Haley said the western province is really ahead on the issue of buildings. That’s largely a result of B.C.’s Energy Step Code policy, which “provides a clear path” toward net-zero energy-ready building standards.

Quebec did well in the transportation category as a result of being what Efficiency Canada calls “the country’s vehicle electrification leader,” thanks to its support of electric vehicle sales and for helping develop a robust charging network.

One of Canada’s underappreciated performers is Nova Scotia, which has gone a long way in establishing provincial energy-efficiency programs, Haley said.

The province was early in recognizing the potential. In the mid-2000s, Nova Scotia looked ahead to future power demand and determined it could either meet it through traditional means, which meant building carbon-emitting power plants, or it could tackle the problem through greater efficiency.

Results showed that greater efficiency would avoid the need to build an additional coal plant, and save an estimated $1 billion. The province ended up making saving energy a focus through the creation of a utility known as Efficiency Nova Scotia, and spurred growth in green jobs in a new energy savings sector.

One of the beneficiaries of that was Dwaine MacDonald, co-founder of Trinity Energy Group in Stellarton, N.S., which works on making commercial and residential buildings more energy-efficient. Since MacDonald and his partners launched the company in 2006, Trinity has grown to 80 full-time employees. Not only is business good, but other regions have taken notice of Nova Scotia’s expertise.

“Efficiency Nova Scotia is now known as a world leader in these programs,” said MacDonald, citing Alberta and Ontario, as well as U.S. states like Maine, as some of the jurisdictions that have sought guidance. “Nobody has been able to touch what Nova Scotia has done. It’s extremely impressive.”

Given the sector’s potential, Haley fully admitted that Efficiency Canada put out the scorecard with an eye to “trying to get some friendly competition going amongst the provinces to improve energy efficiency.” SOURCE

Canada among G20 countries least likely to hit emissions targets

Critics blast a proposal to curb climate change by halting population growth

More than 11,000 scientists signed a paper arguing the world needs to stabilize or gradually reduce the global population.

A crowd of people.
UNSPLASH / CHUTTERSNAP

More than 11,000 scientists from a broad range of disciplines signed a new editorial declaring a “climate emergency,” but other researchers immediately criticized one of the proposed remedies: halting population growth.

“Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day, the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced,” reads the piece published in BioScience on Tuesday.

The authors note that effective means of lowering fertility rates include making family-planning services more widely available, improving education for girls and young women, and increasing gender equality.

But rich nations generally already have flat or declining birth rates, so the proposal largely seems directed at fast-growing developing nations in Africa and Asia. Specifically, the UN projects that nine countries will account for more than half of projected growth between now and 2050, including (in descending order) India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt, and the US (where migration is expected to be the main driver of growth).

“A bunch of white people in the developed world saying population should be reduced is the definition of an imperialist framing,” Arvind Ravikumar, an assistant professor of energy engineering at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said on Twitter.

Joseph Majkut, a climate scientist and director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, a think tank based in Washington, DC, says the suggestion is highly problematic from a political standpoint. It feeds directly into the perception among conservatives that “climate science and its conclusions are the product of an ideological movement,” one that prioritizes nature over humans.

A scientific rationale for a smaller world population could also be abused to justify more aggressive tactics of population control, or racist attitudes toward growing parts of the developing world. To some, the proposal drew to mind darker periods in the environmental movement, when various organizations and figures promoted pro-eugenics and anti-immigration views.

The UN projects that global population could grow from around 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050, and peak around the end of the century at 11 billion.

Fewer people producing less in greenhouse-gas emissions could make some difference in the danger that climate change poses over time. But whether we end up with 9, 10, or 11 billion people in the coming decades, the world will still be pumping out increasingly risky amounts of climate pollution if we don’t fundamentally fix the underlying energy, transportation, and food systems.

Others note inconsistencies in the BioScience paper’s proposed remedies to climate change. Notably, the authors also say the world needs to shift economic priorities away from growth in gross domestic product, and toward meeting basic human needs and reducing inequality.

However, rising GDP levels in many parts of the world reflect declining inequality as poor people in developing nations rise toward the middle class, says Jesse Reynolds, a fellow in environmental law and policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. And at least during the early stages, economic development is often correlated with declines in birth rates, so success at slowing GDP growth may complicate efforts to slow population growth.  

Many prominent names in climate science are conspicuously absent from the list of signatories, and many researchers who did add their names are in fields outside climate and energy. One notable name that does appear is James Hansen, an adjunct professor at Columbia who is considered the father of climate research for his early and influential modeling studies. 

SOURCE

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Green Party’s election climate plan gets top marks from municipalities

More than 200 municipal leaders have issued a “report card” on the federal parties’ climate platforms in hope of pushing Canada’s next government to better tackle the climate crisis’s impact on cities.

The Climate Caucus is a network of hundreds of Canadian mayors and city councillors working to limit global heating to 1.5 C, as recommended by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s.

On Wednesday, the organization released grades for each party’s climate change platform based on an assessment of their policies on transportation, buildings, waste, land use and adaptation.

The grades are as follows:

    • Conservatives: D-
    • Greens: A-
    • Liberals: B
    • NDP: B
    • People’s Party of Canada: F

“One of our main purposes as local governments is to challenge the provinces and federal government to do more on climate change,” Rik Logtenberg, a city councillor in Nelson, B.C., and co-founder of the Climate Caucus, said in an interview. “We have sympathy and understanding of the task at hand that others don’t. We understand that fighting climate change is complicated, especially if you’re trying to build a realistic climate platform. We understand that it’s difficult.”

According to UN Habitat, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy, and produce more than 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, cities will be home to two-thirds of the world’s population.

“Our asks have a lot of weight, because these are specific things we need tomorrow. Cities are carrying a lot of the weight right now to mitigate climate change, so this report card is deeply grounded in the reality of today” – @riklogtenberg

In Canada, cities are on the frontline of the fight against the climate crisis, Logtenberg said. But receive just over 10 cents on the dollar of all taxes collected in Canada, 80 per cent of which goes directly toward providing services, operations and maintenance.

This means local governments have only 20 per cent of the tax dollars they receive to protect and preserve the majority of Canada’s infrastructure from climate change.

According to a recent report conducted by Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, avoiding the worst effects of climate change at the municipal level will cost an estimated $5.3 billion per year, shared among all three levels of government.

Whoever forms government Monday will have to work with the leaders on the ground dealing with the issues that best facilitate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

“We, probably more than any other organization in Canada, are dealing with the impacts of climate change already,” Logtenberg said. “We’re actively working on rebuilding our transportation infrastructure. We’re rebuilding our building codes. We’re managing our municipal composting system with the intent of removing methane. We are dealing with the realities of climate change day to day.”

“Our asks have a lot of weight, because these are specific things we need tomorrow,” he added. “Cities are carrying a lot of the weight right now to mitigate climate change, so this report card is deeply grounded in the reality of today.” MORE

Tesla May Soon Have a Battery That Can Last a Million Miles

Elon Musk promised Tesla would soon have a million-mile battery, more than double what drivers can expect today. A new paper suggests he wasn’t exaggerating.

tesla at a charging station
PHOTOGRAPH: WADE VANDERVORT/AP

Last April, Elon Musk promised that Tesla would soon be able to power its electric cars for more than 1 million miles over the course of their lifespan. At the time, the claim seemed a bit much. That’s more than double the mileage Tesla owners can expect to get out of their car’s current battery packs, which are already well beyond the operational range of most other EV batteries. It just didn’t seem real—except now it appears that it is.

Earlier this month, a group of battery researchers at Dalhousie University, which has an exclusive agreement with Tesla, published a paper in The Journal of the Electrochemical Society describing a lithium-ion battery that “should be able to power an electric vehicle for over 1 million miles” while losing less than 10 percent of its energy capacity during its lifetime.

Led by physicist Jeff Dahn, one of the world’s foremost lithium-ion researchers, the Dalhousie group showed that its battery significantly outperforms any similar lithium-ion battery previously reported. They noted their battery could be especially useful for self-driving robotaxis and long-haul electric trucks, two products Tesla is developing.

What’s interesting, though, is that the authors don’t herald the results as a breakthrough. Rather, they present it as a benchmark for other battery researchers. And they don’t skimp on the specifics.

“Full details of these cells including electrode compositions, electrode loadings, electrolyte compositions, additives used, etc. have been provided,” Dahn and his colleagues wrote in the paper. “This has been done so that others can recreate these cells and use them as benchmarks for their own R+D efforts.” MORE

Battery-electric buses hit the roads in Metro Vancouver

TransLink hopes to operate its fleet using renewable energy by 2050


The new battery-electric buses are part of a two-and-a-half year pilot project. A prototype is pictured here. (Alex Lamic/CBC)

TransLink’s first battery-electric buses are taking to the roads in Metro Vancouver as part of a pilot project to reduce emissions.

The first four zero-emission buses picked up commuters in Vancouver, Burnaby and  New Westminster on Wednesday. Six more are expected to be brought in.

“With so many people taking transit in Vancouver today, electric buses will make a real difference,” said Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank at Simon Fraser University, in a release.

According to TransLink, each bus is expected to reduce 100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and save $40,000 in fuel costs per year compared to a conventional diesel bus.

“Buses already help tackle climate change by getting people out of cars, and Vancouver is ahead of the game with its electric trolleys,” Smith said.

She added there is still more work to be done to get every bus off diesel.

The buses will run along the No. 100 route connecting Vancouver and New Westminster. They recharge — it takes about five minutes — at new charging stations installed at both ends of the route while passengers load and unload or while the driver has a short break. MORE